UK marriage venues rules under review

Couples may be permitted to marry in their own homes, on military bases or at sea under proposals to scrap rules limited permitted venues for marriages. 

The Law Commission is to conduct a two-year review of marriage ceremonies in England and Wales, to cut back red tape which restricts couples’ choices when planning their big day. 

A 2015 report by the commission found that the laws surrounding  weddings, which date back to 1836, were outdated and too restrictive for modern life. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced in his 2018 Budget that the body would be asked to draw up proposals for change, and that review is now getting underway. 

The project will review the current laws on how and where marriages can take place and look for ways to lower the cost of venues and open up opportunities for a wider range of locations to be used, such as military bases for the marriage of service personnel. 

“A couple’s wedding day is one of the most important events in their lives. Our project aims to bring the 19th-century law up to date and make it more flexible, giving couples greater choice so they can marry in a way that is meaningful to them.” – Law Commissioner Nick Hopkins

The project, first announced by Government in the 2018 Budget, follows on from the Law Commission’s 2015 Scoping Paper, in which we outlined a range of problems with the current law, which largely dates from 1836.

Under current law, couples are limited in their choice of the wedding location. Civil ceremonies must take place in approved premises that have been licensed for the purpose by local authorities. The review could increase the choice and lower the cost of venues, and see civil ceremonies held at sea, in private homes or military sites for service personnel. 

The Law Commission is opening a consultation on creating a “simpler, fairer system” that provides more choice and alternatives to the cost of an approved venue or registry office. 

The government is separately looking at introducing new legislation on holding civil weddings and civil partnerships outside. 

The Ministry of Justice said any new venues “would have to meet the existing test of solemnity and dignity”. 

The government said it “values the continuing status of the Church of England as the established church in England” but noted the findings of a 2015 Law Commission report that raised concern. 

It found that the inconsistent and highly technical provisions around wedding venues “have not been fundamentally reformed since 1836”. 

David Gauke, the justice secretary, said: “Getting married is a deeply personal decision, so we want couples to have greater choice in how and where they celebrate their commitment. 

“While we will always preserve the dignity of marriage, people from all walks of life should be able to express their vows in a way that is meaningful to them. 

“This review will look at the red tape and outdated rules around weddings – making sure our laws are fit for modern life.” 

The project by the Law Commission is currently in the Initialisation stage, but we will be monitoring the progress of the project and keep you posted.