Response to Comment in The Times on ‘Multicultural Britain needs to reform marriage’

The Times published a comment piece on January 20th by Farhan Farani which can accessed via their paywall at https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/multicultural-britain-needs-to-reform-marriage-x52cjhvw5

Farhan Farani’s comment piece rightly raises the need to reform our out of date law on marriage. However, I disagree with his conclusions and question the way in which he uses some of my work to come to those conclusions.

He cites work that I co-authored at the Centre for Law and Religion at Cardiff University for the proposition that ‘more than half of litigants seen by the Shariah Council do not have a marriage recognised under English law’. However, we were clear that our research was specific to one Sharia Council and we made no claims as to representativeness. We simply do not know the number of unregistered religious marriages.

I also question his conclusion that the solution would be to ensure that ‘all marriages should go through the civil registration process at the local registry’. The problem with the current law is that it is too restrictive and does not reflect the realities of how many couples get married. Making the law more restrictive would be counterproductive.

It is already the law that in order to have a legally binding marriage, couples must comply with the requirements of marriage law which require civil registration unless a religious marriage complies with the terms of the Act. In the case of an Islamic marriage that would require that the marriage takes place in a registered place of worship with an authorised person present.

As I argued in my book Religion and Marriage Law: The Need for Reform (Bristol University Press, 2021), marriage law is already too restrictive in terms of recognising religious wedding ceremonies.

The requirement that a religious marriage takes place in a registered place of worship excludes those religions who do not have a place of worship or have a tradition of marriages occurring elsewhere.

Making it more difficult for people to get married would simply increase the number of unregistered religious marriage and would mean that more people would lack the rights that they often think that they have because they are married in their eyes and in the eyes of their faith.

– A copy of the arguments of this blog post has been sent as a letter to The Times.

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