Marriages and civil partnerships in Wales

On 7 July, the Welsh Government issued Guidance to local authorities and places of worship on marriages and civil partnerships: coronavirus for local authorities and places of worship on the solemnisation of marriages and the forming of civil partnerships. Extracts of this guidance are reproduced below,[emphasis added].


Introduction

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 impose temporary restrictions on gatherings and movement of people in Wales. This has been done to control the spread of coronavirus in Wales and to help protect the public from the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

On 22 June 2020 amendments to the Regulations came into force which allow places of worship to open to conduct solemnisation of marriage or the formation of a civil partnership and provide for a person to gather in buildings to attend a solemnisation of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership. The effect of these changes is that it is now lawful for places of worship as well as Register Offices to open for such events and for certain people to gather and enter relevant buildings to attend such ceremonies.

[…]

It will be for places of worship themselves to assess whether they wish to open for such ceremonies and to consider the necessary reasonable steps to maintain physical distancing between households during the ceremony. The Registration service provides a statutory service, and will be able to facilitate marriage and civil partnerships now that the restrictions on travel have been eased for such purposes. However, it should be recognised that there may be circumstances where issues, such as numbers of staff who are self-isolating, may make it impractical to do so or may limit appointment availability.

Guests may attend the marriage ceremony or civil partnership formation, but should recognise that we are making a limited exception to the restrictions that have been imposed as a result of a public health emergency. The overarching advice, therefore, is that people must only attend an event if invited and that the reasonable excuse for travel and entry to a building that has been established to allow this, extends only to those aspects which are essential to the solemnisation of the marriage or formation of the civil partnership.

The normal restrictions on gatherings would apply to all aspects outside the ceremony itself. Those restrictions limit gatherings to meetings of two households outdoors.   It is, however, important to note that the Regulations are also being amended to allow for two households to join together to become an extended household.  This may only occur on one occasion, but should this happen, that extended household is treated as a single household, and the restrictions on gathering will not apply as between each of its members.  Aside from those involved in and facilitating the ceremony, the only exception to the requirement to be invited would be those who attend to exercise their right to raise a reason against or lawful impediment to the marriage or civil partnership.”


Legal requirements

This guidance does not supplant guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers under Regulations, in respect to all those who are subject to duties under those Regulations to take all reasonable measures to ensure 2 metres distance is kept between people in premises and supplementary guidance [issued by the Welsh Government on 14 April].

Should any doubt arise between provisions in this guidance and that statutory guidance, it should be clear that the statutory guidance shall prevail. Additionally it should be noted that places of worship are permitted to open for funerals and for private prayer and the broadcast of services without a congregation. Separate guidance is available for these purposes.

The Regulations make provisions that apply both to those responsible for a place of worship or Register Office, and to members of the public who may wish to attend a solemnisation of marriage or formation of a civil partnership. Effective from the 22 June the Regulations were amended as follows:

Regulation 7 concerns restrictions on places of worship, crematoriums, cemeteries and community centres

[…]

Regulation 8 concerns restrictions on individuals and provides (in relation to the solemnisation of marriage and the formation of civil partnerships) as follows:

[…]

The amended Regulations provide the legal basis on which places of worship can open for marriage and civil partnership ceremonies. Register Offices had not been required to close under the Regulations but the amendments provide the legal basis on which people can travel and gather within a building to take part in a ceremony, making their re-opening for these purposes practicable.

We would encourage Register Offices to put the necessary measures in place so that they can open to conduct ceremonies and administer the necessary processes to register the marriage or civil partnership, wherever reasonably practical to do so. We would also encourage Registrar’s to attend places of worship to register a marriage or civil partnership, where there presence is required.

In the case of places of worship, the decision whether to open for the purpose of solemnisation of marriage or the forming of civil partnerships is a matter for the administrators of the place of worship itself. The Regulations do not require them to open.

It is for those responsible for the setting to establish the protocols necessary to maintain a 2 metre distance between households and this should include establishing a relevant capacity which would form the basis on which guests can be invited for the ceremony. The only exception to invited guests or those party to the ceremony, including those with a role to play in facilitating the ceremony, would be anyone who attends for the purpose of raising a reason against or lawful impediment to the marriage.

It should be noted that, for the purposes of marriage or civil partnership, the two individuals forming the union should be considered as part of the same household even where they have previously lived in separate households. This may mean the couple form a new household or that one party becomes absorbed into the others former household. Therefore, for the purposes of the ceremony, there is no requirement to maintain a two metre distance between the couple although other participants should be kept 2 metres apart wherever reasonably practical to do so.

The term “place of worship” is not defined in the Regulations.  For the purposes of this guidance, the term includes a confined or enclosed space, which is used for religious ceremonies, collective prayer and worship or similar gatherings, such as a church, gurdwara, mosque, temple, synagogue, prayer meeting or church hall.”


Relationship with the law governing marriage and civil partnership, including legal requirements in respect of Church in Wales (Anglican) marriages

Nothing in the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 amends the law as it relates to marriage or civil partnership. All the requirements of notice, registration, and so on apply as normal. We would encourage Registrars to facilitate these processes wherever practicable. All marriages apart from Anglican ones, require civil preliminaries to be taken via registrars.

For the Anglican churches, the calling of Banns of Marriage is not possible due to the restriction on conducting congregational services. We would therefore urge parties to seek solutions to such problems which may rely on what would normally be provisions for exceptional circumstances. For example, couples can be referred to give civil notices to the Registrars or the Church in Wales can provide a legal basis for a marriage through a (common) licence or Archbishop of Canterbury’s special licence. Recognising the additional burdens these special procedures might entail, we anticipate that many who may wish to marry would prefer to wait until the ceremony can be accompanied by a broader celebration and therefore demand may be reduced, which will make these arrangements more sustainable at this stage.


Other sections of the Guidance

  • What does solemnisation of marriage or the formation of civil partnership include?
  • Taking all reasonable measures to maintain 2 metre distance;
  • A maximum number who can attend;
  • Requirement for those attending to be invited;
  • During the marriage ceremony or civil partnership formation;
  • Singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments;
  • Handling objects
  • Those who can attend
  • Broadcasting
  • Extent of the guidance

Other information

A document has been prepared by the Welsh Government to assist readers of the legislation; it is not an official part of the statutory instruments or explanatory note.  It is intended for illustrative purposes only to assist the reader of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, to understand the subsequent changes made to those Regulations.

  • When text is omitted by the amending Regulations, text is struck through and
    presented in red text;
  • When text is inserted by the amending Regulations, text is underlined and
    presented in blue text;
  • A superscript number, example 1, 2, 3, refers to the relevant note in the box that follows an amended regulation or Schedule.

Whilst the Guidance provides a comprehensive review of the requirements of the legislation, with regard to the legislation itself, this is more clearly set out on http://www.legislation.gov.uk/, where it is available “as made” and in the “latest available” version.


Update on other services

On 10 July, in a written statement: Review of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, Mark Drakeford said that, subject to guidance, from 13 July, faith leaders could begin to gradually resume services at their places of wordship, when they are ready to do so safely. The Chief Medical Officer for Wales has advised that the evidence for 2m social distancing is clear in respect of the immediate health impacts: maintaining a 2m distance provides more protection than 1m – approximately two to five times the protective value in the absence of any other measures to protect a person. Guidance will be published during the week commencing 13 July next week on the additional measures necessary in cases where 2m distancing cannot be maintained.

The Church in Wales stated that churches which were able to meet strict safety regulations, could re-open for services from Sunday, July 19, including baptisms and Holy Communion. Church halls can also re-open from July 20. The safety measures would include maintaining a two-metre distance between people and ensuring sufficient hygiene and cleaning protocols. Churches would also have to complete a COVID-19 risk assessment before re-opening. As a result, not all churches will be able to re-open for either public worship or private prayer at this time. For some it will depend on the availability of volunteers to monitor social distancing and ensure churches are kept clean.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Marriages and civil partnerships in Wales" in Law & Religion UK, 10 July 2020, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2020/07/10/marriages-and-civil-partnerships-in-wales/

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