Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill Passes Through House of Commons

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill passed through its final stages in the House of Commons on Friday 25 February and will now pass to the House of Lords where it will be taken through by Baroness Sugg.

The debates can be read in Hansard at: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2022-02-25/debates/1967704D-1346-4B9D-A47D-BF128CB1FF8A/MarriageAndCivilPartnership(MinimumAge)Bill and https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2022-02-25/debates/9AC0D65F-91AE-43F5-B6CC-8B6B13EB37EC/MarriageAndCivilPartnership(MinimumAge)Bill

The Bill will outlaw child marriage and make it an offence to cause a child marriage to take place. There will be no need to prove coercion and because this law develops laws on forged marriages it applies to both registered and unregistered marriages.

It will be a criminal offence to cause a religious unregistered marriage to take place where one of the parties is under 18. It is already an offence for such a marriage to be a forced marriage.

This is a welcome development but it underscores the need for greater regulation of unregistered marriages which can be achieved by transforming the legal framework on how people get married. The Law Commission’s final report on marriage law is due in July and reform suggestions are also made in my book Religion and Marriage Law: The Need for Reform: https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/religion-and-marriage-law

For further details of the Bill, see my previous blog post:

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for this summary. A question for you on a not uncommon situation, Russell:
    Teenage Muslims wishing to do what most teenagers wish to do sometimes have a very informal – but religiously valid and binding – marriage ceremony. (It is extremely easy to get married in Islam.)
    Could these teenagers be found to have committed the offence of carrying out ‘conduct for the purpose of causing a child to enter into a marriage before the child’s eighteenth birthday’?
    It would seem two such teenagers are carrying out such conduct: each causes both him/herself and their ‘spouse’ to enter into a marriage (in the manner of mutual ministry of the sacrament in RC understanding; but I digress…).

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  2. Also interested in whether you think there are any HR issues with the Bill as it stands. To me it seems to unfairly criminalise teenagers in the situation I’ve described. Sajid Javid said it wasn’t anti-sex, but it does seem it’s anti-sex-for-those-who-believe-in-marriage. Is there any chance the right to a family is engaged here, in that some are excluded from having a family by their beliefs about sex being for marriage alone, whereas any other 16-yo can have children legally?

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    1. That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of that. But then could 15 year olds in the same position make a similar argument. I suppose the difference is the age of consent. Also notable that UN has called for age of marriage to be 18.

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