Most people who have been married in a church, register office, or by registrars at an approved premises in England or Wales will probably remember signing the marriage register (the big green book).
They may also remember the two columns, on the right hand side, for father's details. This dates back to the Victorian times and provisions introduced by the Marriage Act 1836, reflective of how marriage was viewed within the patriarchal society at that time. Children were seen as their father’s property, a bride was given away by their father and there was little consideration as to the importance of a mother’s role within a child’s upbringing and life.
The same marriage register format, and processes, have been used in England and Wales for the past 184 years. The registrar (or authorised person in a church) would use a fountain pen, with special ink, to write a certified copy of the register entry (the 'marriage certificate') and this was handed to the newlyweds just before the end of the ceremony.
However, marriage registration processes are changing.
For ceremonies taking place after 4th May 2021, mother's details (and step-parent(s) if they are, or have ever been, married or in a civil partnership with one of the parents) can also be included. Marriages are not recorded in a marriage register at the end of the ceremony, and certificates are not handwritten (or presented on the day).
So, what has changed for couples getting married?
Well, they are no longer required to sign a marriage register but will be invited to complete the official paperwork by signing a 'marriage schedule' issued by the register office (or a 'marriage document' in the Church of England or Church of Wales) which is on an A4 sheet of paper.
Couples will have the option to include the name and occupation of up to four parents (each) in the schedule/document - which will subsequently be on their marriage certificate: Mother, Father, Step-mother, Step-father.
The schedule/document will be signed by the couple, two witnesses and the officiant.
New and updated guidance will be issued by the Government on the gov.uk website for couples getting married.
All marriages will be registered online at the register office for the district where the marriage takes place; schedules/documents must be returned to the relevant register office within 21 days of the marriage taking place.
Following the electronic registration, marriage certificates will be available for purchase within a specified timescale (about 7 days seems to be most often quoted, but it does vary and it will be an aim, rather than a guarantee). Certificates are £11 each - there may be additional charges for postage.
The future and proposals for further reform
The option to include mother's details is a significant step in the right direction, but it's only a small step. There are, hopefully, more opportunities for moving forward on the way.
Humanist marriage ceremonies are personal and personalised, there are no prescribed words and no templates; they can take place anywhere (inside or out - not only in approved premises). Marriages officiated by accredited humanist celebrants are legally recognised in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Isles, but not in England, Wales, or the Isle of Man. Humanists U.K. are working hard to change this. More information here
Watch this space! Even better, support Humanists U.K. campaign by writing to your MP explaining that the existing marriage laws discriminate against humanists, and asking them to raise the matter with Ministers. (Please copy any replies you get to Humanists U.K.)
In addition, a scoping exercise for the Law Commission review into comprehensive marriage reform took place in 2014/15. The Law Commission’s consultation on its provisional proposals to reform the law, governing how and where couples can get married, closed on 4 January 2021. The results of the review is due to be published in the second half of 2021.
It has been a long time coming and Government acceptance of the findings, and policy change, is by no means guaranteed. If the Government were to choose to modernise and improve wedding law, the proposed changes could:
Allow weddings to take place outdoors, for example on beaches, in parks, in private gardens and on the grounds of current wedding venues.
Allow weddings to take place in a wider variety of buildings (for example in private homes) and on cruise ships.
Offer couples greater flexibility over the form their wedding ceremonies will take, enabling them, if they desire, to use a variety of ceremonies (religious and non-religious) to mark their weddings.
Simplify the process and remove unnecessary red tape to make it fair to couples, more efficient, and easier to follow. For example, couples will be able to complete the initial stage of giving notice of their intended wedding online or by post, rather than having to do so in person.
Provide a framework that could allow non-religious belief organisations (such as Humanists) and/or independent celebrants to conduct legally binding weddings.
Ensure that fewer weddings conducted according to religious rites result in a marriage that the law does not recognise at all.
Provide a power to allow weddings to take place remotely during any future national emergency, such as another pandemic.
Hi, I am Lorraine Hull, an award-winning Celebrant, based in Liverpool.
I am most usually asked to conduct ceremonies in North-West England and North Wales but I am happy to travel anywhere within the U.K. or abroad.
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You may also like to know that I am accredited by Humanists UK and a recommended LGBTQ+ Equality Weddings supplier. I hold Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance, I adhere to a strict code of conduct and I am committed to developing and sharing best practice with my Independent and Humanist Celebrant colleagues, so that we can all be the best Celebrants that we can possibly be.
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