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Industry News from the Give couples choice movement

The Law Commission has been reviewing the Wedding Law of England and Wales, with a view to updating the laws for the modern world. The current laws on weddings date back to the 19th Century, and it is agreed by all parties that reform is required.

In this respect The Law Commission have produced a consultation paper outlining their provisional recommendations for Wedding reform. The key proposal is to move to an ‘officiant-based system’ to allow couples freedom of choice for their ceremony.

The ‘Give Couples Choice Movement’ wholeheartedly support this principle but want to ensure true freedom of choice is given to couples, and believe that can only be achieved by including Independent Celebrants in any new legislation.

The Law Commission has recently announced that the publication of their final report, which was previously expected before the end of 2021, has now been delayed until July 2022. This allows time for the consideration of responses from all parties interested in Wedding Law reform and allows Independent Celebrants to continue to ensure their case is heard.

What is an Independent Celebrant?

Image credit: Sarah Noble Celebrant

An Independent Celebrant, whilst, at the moment unable to perform a legal wedding, can create a wedding ceremony unique to the couple. Unlike Humanist celebrants, Independent celebrants conduct ceremonies independent from any belief system, but will happily include religious and cultural elements into a ceremony without any fear of judgement or discrimination.

To quote Sarah Noble, Independent Celebrant, “Couples can be mixed faith, no faith, interfaith, humanist, gay or straight, traditional or modern, spiritual but not religious. For a truly heartfelt ceremony, love is all you need.”

The 2010 Equality Act states that it is illegal to discriminate on basis of religion. Without the inclusion of Independent Celebrants in Wedding Reform Legislation we cannot see how this principle can be upheld.

In 2017 The Office for National Statistics stated that 1 in 10 couples in the UK are in an inter-ethnic relationship. Often a couple may want elements from their respective faiths included in their wedding ceremony. This can be achieved with an Independent Celebrant Led wedding.

Jennifer Claire, Founder of ‘The Academy of Modern Celebrancy’ says ‘Inevitably, interfaith marriage remains a sensitive issue for many religious groups who fear that the union of different religions could eventually cut the cord on their spiritual past. Yet, interfaith marriage is an inescapable consequence of our culturally dynamic world and one that should be accommodated and celebrated’

Northern Ireland Dept. of Finance Consultation Paper

A consultation paper was written recently by the Northern Ireland Department of Finance highlighting proposals for Marriage Law in Northern Ireland. Whilst this is a separate issue to reform in England and Wales, it may be a pre cursor to similar change, and therefore worth considering and reviewing.

For the benefit of brevity, we shall just address the section regarding Independent Wedding Celebrants, however, 

A link to the full report is below.

Marriage Law Consultation Document (finance-ni.gov.uk)

Sections 38- 40 refer to Independent Celebrants. The language, in our opinion, is written with the sole intention of portraying us as commercially minded individuals just interested in furthering our own businesses, at any cost.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with business. It provides a living, creates jobs, increases spending, and creates tax revenue. We should not be made to feel ashamed for having a profitable business.

What this report fails to recognise are the thousands of couples who have had the wedding ceremony of their dreams, personalised to them, and incorporating family rituals or traditions, which otherwise would not be allowed. Such is the importance on non-discrimination to these couples that they are happy to choose Independent Celebrants in the knowledge that they will still have to visit a registrar to be legally wed. 

We feel Section 40 needs particular attention

‘On the other hand, if government were to permit independent wedding celebrants who currently provide, on a business basis, non-binding wedding ceremonies—literally a ceremony and nothing else—to provide legally binding marriages, it would be obliged in the interest of equality to extend the same commercial opportunity to religious and belief groups. There might also be a considerable impact on civil marriages. If independent celebrants could offer a secular marriage ceremony that was legally binding, the current registration service might see a decrease in the numbers of couples wanting a conventional civil ceremony. It is also likely that extending the right to solemnise marriages 20 to independent celebrants would create a need for additional regulation. Just as the legitimacy of religious officiants and belief celebrants need to be established, so too would that of independent celebrant’

Once again, the focus of the report seems to be financial, and not providing couples with choice. They appear worried that the current Registration service may see a decrease in couples wanting their service. Is this a commercial concern? It’s certainly not concerned about offering couples choice.

They mention the legitimacy of independent celebrants would need to be established. We are certain that most Independent Celebrants would be happy to go through an application process to prove themselves worthy and reliable officiants, no doubt with the addition of a hefty licence fee. Remember, business is not a bad thing!

My final thought on this paper is targeted at Section 46 which reads ‘Belief organisations could, like religious bodies, encourage donations instead of charging fees’. Draw your own conclusions!

What can you do?

Have you heard of the 80/20 rule? It states that in most organisations 20% of the people do 80% of the work. We would like 80% of the people getting behind our proposals. Look on our website: Give Couples Choice – Give Couples Choice Movement (gccmovement.org) for information on how you can help. Give feedback on the Northern Ireland Consultation paper, it may impact on England and Wales legislation one day.

Write to your MP and express your views. If you are an Independent Celebrant then shout out about the joy you have brought to your couples. Let’s educate the country, and perhaps most importantly Parliament, about the wonderful ceremonies we create and perform, so that when wedding reform happens it gives couples the choice they deserve and are entitled to.

Blog header photography credit: Megan Donati Photography

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