Outdoor weddings are here to stay as the government announces a permanent extension to licensed wedding venues.
After a robust campaign by members of the wedding industry, the interfaith community and the wider public, the government has announced that outdoor civil weddings and partnerships at licensed venues will be made permanently legal in England and Wales from April 2022. This legislation will be a permanent extension to the temporary measures that were introduced in 2021 to enable couples to safely marry outdoors during the pandemic.
A government consultation found that 96% of respondents backed this permanent change. 93% also supported extending it to religious ceremonies. This change currently only applies to civil ceremonies and partnerships however further reforms to religious ceremonies are planned due to overwhelming support from all major faith groups.
This is exciting news for the wedding and events industry and opens the door for couples to plan their dream outdoor summer wedding.
What does this mean for couples?
Couples are often looking for more meaningful ways to personalise their wedding and this change will give them greater choice and freedom to create a more authentic ceremony. The legislation will allow couples the ability to exchange their vows in the open air surrounded by nature. They must still book an approved venue but the venue licence will be extended to include all outdoor areas. A woodland glade, a lakeside jetty, on a roof garden or a clifftop field overlooking the sea. So many more possibilities!
Before visiting wedding venues, couples should think about whether they want an indoor or outdoor ceremony. If an outdoor ceremony is attractive then examine what outdoor space the venue can offer and whether it is suitable for the ceremony. Consider seating space and accessibility as well as the aesthetic qualities of the site. If the weather forecast is poor then what alternative ceremony venues are available? Are they equal to the outdoor setting? Could a temporary structure such as a tipi or marquee be erected to provide shelter and enable the ceremony to continue outdoors?
The ceremony will still be required to be officiated by a registrar and couples must adhere to the legal preliminaries including giving notice of their marriage or civil partnership and providing identification documents. The ceremony must also include specific vows and be free of any religious influence.
What does this mean for wedding venues?
Lots of calls from couples who have already booked the venue and are now thinking of changing their plans from indoor ceremony to outdoor ceremony! The venue will still be required to have a licence to conduct civil weddings and partnerships on their premises but the licence will no longer be restricted to indoor spaces. The licence will be extended to include all outdoor spaces provided that the areas are ‘seemly and dignified.’ This will be determined by an assessment undertaken by a registrar from the local authority.
All venues should consider what outdoor spaces they can offer for wedding ceremonies –
venues that can offer a larger variety of outdoor spaces with multiple appeal will stand out. Larger estates may have endless options from formal gardens to more bohemian wild woodlands, but urban venues can also compete with courtyard gardens and rooftop vistas.
Think about the aesthetic qualities of the space you are offering. What is the appeal to couples wishing to marry outside? Does it offer the romance of a showstopping view, a unique or unusual setting or breathtaking beauty? Venues should consider investing equal time and money into developing their outdoor areas as they do their indoor areas.
As well as creating the wow factor, also ensure your outdoor spaces are accessible and suitable for ceremonies. How many guests can you safely and comfortably accommodate in the outside space? How will guests get to the space? Does the space offer privacy or is it overlooked? Will you need to pacify any neighbours fearful of outdoor weddings? Are your gardeners worried about the flowerbeds? Will you need to leave a field fallow to enable alternative usage? Remember that requirements for public access will also remain.
What does this mean for registrars?
Please bear with your local registrars. No doubt they are still learning about what the change in the law means and how best they can support venues and couples. Speaking to my local registrar this week, they had only found out about this change when we did and are catching up on the ramifications themselves. If you are planning to offer outdoor spaces alongside your approved indoor venues, please do inform your local authority well in advance.
Future wedding law reform
This change in law is also encouraging news ahead of the publication of the Law Commission’s report into the proposed reform of the Marriage Act. A final report is expected in July and is intended to provide recommendations for a “reformed law of weddings that will allow couples greater choice within a simple, fair and consistent legal structure.” Principally we hope that the reform will remove any unnecessary regulation and increase choice for couples. Consideration is being made to the legal preliminaries required before the wedding, removing the restrictions on where a wedding can take place, who can solemnise a marriage, if specific vows are required and how marriages are registered.
The anticipation is that a reform will offer couples more freedom and inclusivity than ever before to choose how and where they conduct their marriage or partnership ceremonies:
• Instead of venues being licensed, an officiate could be registered with the local authority. This could be a humanist or independent celebrant, church minister or civil servant who can meet certain stipulations. A similar officiate system is already in place in Australia and New Zealand
• Couples could be able to choose a meaningful place to conduct their ceremony rather than an approved venue. This could be anywhere – at home, on a beach or in a church
• Couples could be able to decide a style of ceremony that reflects them, and not the state or church, and choose authentic words personal to them
• Couples could also have the opportunity to combine a secular ceremony with a religious ritual. This would be an important and inclusive change in our multi-faith society. Families become joined through marriage which can often create complications if each family has a different faith or belief
• This reform may also help make weddings more affordable as couples are saved the cost of hiring an approved venue.
About the Author
Charlotte Winship has over 20 years’ experience transforming good wedding and events venues into great ones. She is an expert in helping venues reach their ideal customers, maximise sales opportunities, increase profitability, establish effective teams and streamline venue operations. 07493 350303 / firstname.lastname@example.org / www.charlottewinship.com