The government is due to publish its formal response to the Law Commission’s proposals for wedding law reform this month. While the wedding industry has widely accepted the need for change, The Church of England has hit out against the proposals.
The Church of England has intervened in the debate, with The Bishop of Durham warning that “the move to commercialise weddings is likely to undermine the Christian understanding of marriage” and “open up the institution to abuse from profit makers”.
The Office of National Statistics published marriage data in May 2023, revealing that 2019 saw the lowest percentage of religious wedding ceremonies on record. 18.7% of opposite-sex marriages were religious ceremonies, down from 21.1% in 2018, and just 0.7% of same-sex marriages.
The proposed changes would give couples even more choice in how and where they get married, so does this mean that even fewer couples will choose a religious wedding?
When setting out the need for reform, Justice Secretary David Gauke commented: “Whilst we will always preserve the dignity of marriage, people from all walks of life should be able to express their vows in a way that is meaningful to them. This review will look at the red tape and outdated rules around weddings – making sure our laws are fit for modern life.”
Editor of Guides for Brides, Alison Hargreaves, who has witnessed numerous changes to the marriage laws over the past 30 years, doesn’t feel that the Church of England has anything to worry about.
“We can see from online data that those with a particular faith, who would like a religious ceremony, consistently plan their wedding around the ceremony. Their choice of reception venue is second to that and there’s no reason that will change.
However, the proposed changes will open up more options for couples who believe in the institution of marriage, but don’t want to have the big celebration. It would allow them to have an appropriate ceremony in a setting where they feel comfortable and with an officiant of their choice; whether that is at home, in a woodland or in a local restaurant. They’ll be free to include secular elements if they choose to, which is so important to many planning mixed faith and second weddings.”
An article in The Telegraph reported that “The impact of Instagram influencers on the wedding industry has changed the shape of the market in recent years, with many prospective couples now looking for inspiration online” and that “the changes could trivialise weddings and allow for some to profit from ceremonies.”
Over 10,000 weddings a year in England and Wales are already led by independent celebrants, but the current law dictates that couples choosing this option must complete their marriage legalities separately. Many registration districts limit the opportunities to have a basic statutory marriage ceremony, which adds to the cost and inconvenience.
The Association of Independent Celebrants feel that the proposals in fact aim to make weddings MORE, not less, meaningful.
"As independent celebrants we ensure that every wedding ceremony reflects the values of the couple, not necessarily of the officiant," says Sophie Easton of the Association of Independent Celebrants (AOIC). "Many of the couples we work with are non-religious, but equally, many are spiritual in outlook, or in mixed-faith relationships, so it's our job to ensure their ceremony reflects them to a tee."
“As for the ‘profit-making’ argument,” continues Sophie, “the majority of celebrants charge a fee which is broadly comparable to that charged by church ministers and registrars. When you take into account the enormous amount of preparation involved in crafting a personalised ceremony, this can hardly be deemed as the celebrant’s prime motivation for their work!”
Guides for Brides data revealed that the cost of a Church wedding, celebrant-led wedding and civil marriage or partnership ceremony was fairly similar depending on the location of the wedding. The average “typical” price given by celebrants across the country was £625. For church weddings outside of your local parish, couples can expect to pay up to £641 and a similar amount for a registrar attending an approved venue to deliver the ceremony.
Bride-to-be, Nikita Thorne says that the change to an officiant based system would ensure couples have greater choice and flexibility.
“When my partner and I were deciding where to get married, a church wedding was discussed. However, neither of us had been to Church for many years and it didn’t feel right to get married in one. We have instead opted for a relaxed pub venue that better suited our style and budget. We are lucky that our venue has invested in the licence required for us to be legally married within their space, but it would be great to have even more choice and flexibility to meet the needs and beliefs of all couples.