England and Wales to Legalise Outdoor Civil Weddings, Partnership Ceremonies

By Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou
June 20, 2021 Updated: June 20, 2021

Outdoor civil weddings and partnership ceremonies will be legal in England and Wales from July 1, the government announced on Sunday.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said the change would give new couples more freedom to “celebrate it the way that they want” and “support the marriage sector by providing greater choice and helping venues to meet demand for larger ceremonies.”

Under current regulations, a “premise” which can be approved for hosting legally binding civil marriage or partnership ceremonies is defined as “a permanently immovable structure comprising at least a room, or any boat or other vessel which is permanently moored.”

The premises are usually hotels, stately homes, and castles.

The government said that a statutory instrument will be laid on June 30 to amend the regulations, with the change taking effect on July 1.

The change will allow legal ceremonies to take place outdoors within the grounds of approved premises, which must be deemed “a seemly and dignified venue” among other requirements and conditions.

However, the change doesn’t apply to religious premises. The government said it will “legislate to allow religious marriages to take place outdoors when parliamentary time allows.” This excludes Jewish and Quaker weddings, which can already take place outdoors for historical reasons.

The amendment will be in force until April 2022. The government said it will launch a consultation in the autumn to “consider the practical impacts of this policy in detail and to enable a later amending Statutory Instrument which is not time-limited.”

It comes after the Law Commission said last year in its recommendations (pdf) that it saw no apparent good reason to restrict couples’ choice of wedding venue.

The commission said that the regulations had already been interpreted differently by different local authorities, with some beach huts, garden pergolas, and bandstands approved, and some other garden structures denied.

It said that many couples were already holding non-legally binding ceremonies outdoors, disregarding the regulations.

The commission added that the rules had also been circumvented by venues, many of which offer gazebos for couples to stand under while guests seat outside; and by some local authorities, which offer packages where registration officers will conduct a wedding in a register office or room of an approved premises in the usual way, but will then conduct another ceremony for the couple at a location of their choice.

The rule change also coincides with the delay of the removal of CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson previously planned to remove all legal restrictions to curb the spread of the CCP virus on June 21, but announced a four-week delay on June 14.

There will still be some reduction of restrictions on June 21. According to updated government guidelines, the number of wedding guests will no longer be capped at 30, but will depend on the capacity of the venue.

Lily Zhou
Lily Zhou