Government Recognition of Independent Celebrants

A recent Parliamentary written answer shows that the Government recognises that the position of independent celebrants will be a factor in forthcoming wedding reform.

Mike Amesbury MP tabled the following question:

‘To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, whether he has plans to bring forward legislative proposals to enable wedding celebrants to perform legally recognised marriages’.

Tom Pursglove MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice) (jointly with Home Office), responded:

‘The Government announced in June 2019 that the Law Commission would conduct a fundamental review of the law on how and where people can legally marry in England and Wales. As part of this review, the Law Commission will make recommendations regarding how provision could be made for the use of independent celebrants. The Government will consider the Law Commission’s recommendations carefully when received. It is right for us to await these recommendations.’

This is a welcome recognition that the issues requiring wedding reform affect independent celebrants. Most of the attention to date has focused on humanist celebrants but independent celebrants are similarly excluded under marriage law. The wedding ceremonies they conduct are not legally binding unless and until the couple also undergo a civil ceremony.

This is not only costly and inconvenient – who after all refers to their wedding as the happiest days of their life – but is also discriminatory since English law only recognises and makes provision for certain religious beliefs concerning marriage.

The Law Commission’s Consultation Paper, published September 2020, suggested a move towards an officiant system. It proposed that religion or belief organisations could nominate officiants and that independent celebrants could apply for recognition.

The Law Commission’s final report on the matter is to be published by the end of the year.

In my recent book, Religion and Marriage Law: The Need for Reform, I argue that there is a desperate need to bring marriage law into the twenty-first century. I broadly welcome the Law Commission’s approach but argue that the problem of defining religion or belief means that it would be preferable for the nomination route to be open to organisations generally. This would mean that most independent celebrants could be nominated by their umbrella organisations.

A summary of my arguments can be found in my Policy Briefing

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