Updated: Jun 3, 2019
What are the proposed changes in marriage law about?
In a pre-budget press release, the Treasury has indicated that there is a desire for the rules surrounding marriage to be relaxed, allowing couples to marry legally out side of religious buildings, approved premises and register offices. If this were to become law it would open up opportunities for outdoor weddings on beaches and in woodlands, and in an array of other currently non-approved premises such as pubs and restaurants.
In principle we welcome these changes, and although we do not see a rush from the types of couples our business attracts to get married in pubs and restaurants, we see a demand for outdoors legal wedding ceremonies and feel these will be hugely attractive to our couples. Many of our venue partners already offer outdoor ceremony options by using pagodas in beautiful settings, and this proposed change could really open up opportunities to bring to market even more imaginative and beautiful settings for those looking for small, affordable, yet very special wedding days.
The driving sentiment behind the Government’s review of marriage laws is to make them “simpler and fairer”.The proposed changes are said to be aimed at boosting thehospitality sector. They are considering axing a range of restrictions including a ban on alcohol being served during proceedings and on ceremonies taking place outdoors. You do have to question how many couples actually want their guests to be boozing through their actual ceremony. Certainly at Petite Wedding we serve toast drinks after the ceremony and often guests and the couple enjoy a drink beforehand, but given solemn nature of this aspect of a wedding day, it is questionable whether this particular change is necessary.
Some initial work undertaken by The Law Commission has identified a “strong demand” for “cheap and personal weddings”. With the average cost of a UK wedding quoted at £30,355 by the BBC on 27 October 2018, this can provide an exceptionally high be a barrier to marriage. This was one of the reasons we started Petite Weddings – we could see a demand for very special small wedding days that did not cost the earth. Having arranged over 300 small weddings and elopements in the past 3 years here in Cornwall, the average cost is just £5065 – some 83% cheaper than the national average we agree there is a demand, and the costs savings can be significant without compromising on the quality of the day enjoyed by our couples.
So what’s going to happen next?
A law change is by no means immediate and as such it is currently proposed that The Law Commission conducts a review covering consideration of relaxing rules around alcohol and food, and it will also consider how to accommodate increasing demand from couples to have a legally binding ceremony outdoors, as is available in Scotland. Once the review is complete and recommendations agreed, law changes will be drafted and the whole process of getting these law changes through Parliament will start. It's not a quick process, but there will be a pathway forward and timelines will become clear as the process gets underway with Phillip Hammond’s Autumn Budget Speech tomorrow.
What options are currently available in Scotland for outside wedding ceremonies?
In Scotland, you can get married in any outside area that the registrar is prepared to agree to. This can be your own back garden or any land where you have the owner’s permission to conduct a wedding ceremony. If the law in England and Wales changes to reflect the Scottish position we can expect similar arrangements. We already arrange celebrant led-outdoor ceremonies for couples (non-legally binding) and the same rules apply to these types of ceremonies. The question is, will landowners want to start cashing in on use of their open spaces if demand increases? Time will tell.
One thing to bear in mind as a coupe considering an outdoor ceremony is that in the UK and the weather is not always reliable. When considering an outdoor ceremony couples would be well advised to consider what their plan B will be should the heavens open.
What will happen at existing approved premises?
Most of our venue partners already offer outdoor wedding options using pagodas. We expect these to remain a popular choice with couples as most of these premised offer a great indoor space as well in case the weather is unkind. Most of our venue partners also offer accommodation on site too, again a major consideration for lots of our couples. We also expect these premises to utilise other areas within their grounds and close-by to provide greater choice for outdoor ceremonies – both in summer and winter. The possibilities are boundless - imagine an outdoor ceremony around a fire pit in the woods at dusk?
Will there be a rush of new businesses entering the wedding sector?
The cost of a wedding license for a business to become an approved premises is c.£1500 for a three year period. We do not believe this is a significant barrier to entry for most businesses in the hospitality industry. In addition the ability to sell drinks through the ceremony does not seem such a huge commercial opportunity that business owners who do not currently hold wedding licenses will rush out to add weddings to their proposition as and when the law is relaxed.
We do not expect a huge rush of new venue entrants, and suspect that some who do enter the market may be short-lived. Weddings require planning and attention to detail and are a lot more involved than it may seem to the untrained eye. They are not a "quick win" commercially and need the right care and attention to ensure the couple and their guests have a stress-free and relaxed wedding experience.
We do expect outdoor options for couple to be extended by existing venues, and a rise the demand for specialist wedding planning help in securing idyllic runaway wedding ceremony locations (and plan Bs!) paired with local wedding day services such as flowers, photography, hair and make up, accommodation and catering.
It’s an exciting time to be working in a runaway wedding business. Watch this space to find out more!