Getting married is always going to be an expensive and complex affair. Currently though the government of England/Wales imposes sizable additional costs and demands, yet offers very little value or flexibility in return. This is especially true for those who wish to have a civil ceremony.
It is time for the state to reduce its role in marriage. The necessary reforms are all straightforward:
• Make it possible to get married wherever and whenever you want. Currently venues have to apply for complicated licences in order to stage weddings (bizarrely, for example, weddings still cannot be conducted outdoors or after 6pm). This dramatically restricts the available options for those who do not want to get married in a traditional church or registry office setting. This reform would create more competition. More competition would mean increased scope for creativity and lower costs for couples. If we remove the burdensome licensing requirement, then suddenly the wedding market will be flooded with new entrants, providing fresh, cheaper solutions.
• Allow humanist celebrants to conduct weddings in England/Wales (they already can in Scotland), thereby eliminating the state’s stranglehold on proceedings and its bias against atheism. We should similarly allow people of the Muslim and Hindu faiths to have legally binding religious ceremonies (in the way Christian and Jewish couples can).
• Remove the requirement to attend a meeting with the local Registrar and all the associated fees. Most Western countries do not demand this level of intrusive government involvement in marriage. The requirement to register for a Banns is an outdated anachronism. The obligation to pay money to the state for getting married is simply indefensible.
NB – My friends were charged £87 by Newham Council (where they live) for registering their intention to marry. This involved attending a ridiculous and condescending interview with the local Registrar. The interview cost £20 more because it had to be on a Saturday, since they both work full-time. They were then charged a further c£400 by Cambridgeshire Council (where they got married) in order to have their Registrar attend the venue and conduct the ceremony. The Registrar would not even let them pick their own vows or approve their choice of readings. And on the day she even messed up her lines. Value for money?
Why is this idea important?
Since 2007 the Prime Minister has been saying that it is Time to make marriage a priority
color:#222222″> and that the institution of marriage will be at the centre of his government’s family policy. If this is the case then the coalition needs to do everything in its power to help couples who want to make that commitment.
It is time to make marriage easier, cheaper, and more flexible to people’s unique needs and preferences. Through an accident of history, the state currently plays far too big a role in this process in England/Wales. Most Western countries have long since liberalised their approach to marriage. So has Scotland. England and Wales need to catch up. This should be an issue around which both liberals and conservatives can unite.
Enacting these reforms would:
• Reduce the cost and complexity of marriage and therefore make it easier for cohabiting couples to solidify their relationship in this way;
• Spur new-entrants into the wedding market and promote new economic activity;
• Reduce the burden to the taxpayer of administering an intrusive and redundant licensing and administrative bureaucracy.