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Detail of outcome
The government has today published its response to the consultation on ‘Marriages by non-religious belief organisations’. The consultation ran for 12 weeks and closed on 18 September 2014.
The consultation sought views on whether the law should be changed to permit non-religious belief organisations (e.g. humanists) to conduct marriages in England and Wales. It also examined which organisations would be able to conduct such marriages if there was a change in the law and how such a change should be implemented.
The majority of people who responded to the consultation were in favour of changing the law to allow non-religious belief ceremonies, and for those ceremonies to take place in unrestricted locations (including out of doors).
However, the consultation raised a number of complex issues which have wider implications for the law concerning marriage ceremonies. In particular, the majority of couples with religious or non-religious beliefs are restricted in where they can marry, and so implementing this change for non-religious belief organisations would create a further difference of treatment in marriage law. There also needs to be further consideration of how to prevent inappropriate groups from registering to conduct ceremonies and guard against any risk in relation to forced and sham marriages and the commercialisation of marriage solemnisation.
Marriage is one of our most important and valued institutions and we need to make sure any changes to the law are conducted with care. In order to consider the legal and technical requirements and the range of relevant issues including those raised by the consultation, the government will ask the Law Commission if it will carry out a broader review of the law concerning marriage ceremonies. The government will work with the Law Commission in the new year to consider the scope of such a review.
Section 14 of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 requires a review to be carried out of whether the law should be changed to permit marriages by non-religious belief organisations.
The consultation asks if there is a substantial case for changing the law to establish non-religious belief ceremonies. This would allow a third type of legal ceremony, alongside religious and civil ceremonies, for getting married in England and Wales.
Section 14 defines a belief organisation as ‘an organisation whose principal or sole purpose is the advancement of a system of non-religious beliefs which relate to morality or ethics’.
The consultation also seeks views on
- which non-religious belief organisations are capable of meeting the definition
- where, if allowed, such marriages would take place
- the provision of safeguards to deal with any resulting risks
- the equality impacts.