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Outdoor religious weddings could be legalised under new government plans

by Donna Birrell

Religious weddings could be allowed outdoors for the first time under new laws being planned by the government.

It's holding a six week consultation beginning today which will examine whether religious weddings can take place outdoors at places of worship for the first time. It would mean that, a religious wedding for most faiths could take place outside such as in the grounds of a church or chapel. 

The government says there would be no obligation to provide outdoor ceremonies and it would be a matter for religious bodies to determine whether such weddings could or should be held and if so, at which locations and/or in what circumstances. It says the changes would provide greater flexibility and choice to couples and the weddings sector. It also says the location for the ceremony must be assessed to be dignified

In 2017, 54,346 weddings were celebrated according to religious rites. The majority of these (74%) were Anglican weddings. The next most popular were Roman Catholic weddings, accounting for 11% of religious weddings, and a further 11% were celebrated by other Christian denominations. Only 4% were conducted according to non-Christian religious rites.

In July temporary legislation was introduced to allow outdoor civil wedding and partnership ceremonies for the first time  and this could now also become permanent.

Justice Minister Tom Pursglove said:

"A wedding is one of the absolute highlights of a person’s life and it is right that couples should have greater choice in how they celebrate their special day.

"Our proposals would afford them that choice whether they choose a civil or religious ceremony, and would mark a huge boost for those planning a wedding over the coming years.

"Crucially, this will also support the wedding sector by ensuring venues can continue to safely meet the demand for larger ceremonies."

The proposed changes reflect medieval weddings, when it was common for ceremonies to take place outside the front of the church. This is why many churches from that period have a projecting porch.

Ministers would like to hear from professionals, religious bodies and couples who have used the current provisions or who would consider using the provisions in the future, in order to understand how they have worked or might work in practice and whether they should remain in force beyond April 2022.

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