Till Reform Do Us Part: Law Commission to review 19th century marriage laws

November 5, 2019

2 min read

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What's going on here?

The Law Commission is working on improving the current laws on marriage in order to simplify the system and cater to everyone.

What does this mean?

The Law Commission’s role is to continually review the law and make any recommendations for its improvement. The Law Commission has singled out a few key areas where it believes that reform is needed. These are:

  • Simplifying the law to make it easier to see if a marriage is legally valid;
  • Where weddings should be allowed to take place (e.g. outdoors, at sea or military sites);
  • Who can conduct weddings (e.g. conducted by non-religious belief organisations);
  • Whether specific vows should be required.

The Commission’s project will also aim to develop a scheme where non-religious belief groups can have a legally binding ceremony.

The Law Commissioner, Nick Hopkins, stated that the “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”.

The review is still in its early stages and is expected to take 2 years.

What's the big picture effect?

Marriage is seen by many as a fundamental right and it undoubtedly touches the vast majority of the public. It is instrumental in how societies function and it is especially important in the family context. As such, updating the law for such a significant event is imperative. The current marriage laws, as stated by Hopkins, remain very much in the past. Given the recent developments around marriage, like the legalisation of same-sex marriage for example, it seems only logical that the surrounding laws are also modernised.

Currently, the law requires that all weddings must be religious or civil, that they must take place in certain buildings, and that couples must fulfil specific roles. However, everybody is different and holds different beliefs. Therefore, an archaic, inflexible set of rules may fail to adequately address all of the contexts of modern marriages. Simply put, a more comprehensive set of regulations is needed to bring the old system into the modern day.

Although the Law Commission is only in its early stages of review, it is essential that they marry the law to the diverse contexts in which marriage now takes place.

Report written by Harina Chandhok

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