Open-air wedding ceremonies set to be legalised throwing a lifeline to covid restricted nuptials

open air wedding

Couples will be allowed to get married outside for the first time from July 1 under plans that will make it possible to boost the size of weddings this summer.

Outdoor civil wedding and partnership ceremonies in England and Wales are set to be legalised, throwing a lifeline to lovers whose plans have been thrown into chaos by lockdown restrictions.

Last week couples celebrated as Boris Johnson, who himself got married for the third time last month, announced that the limit on the number of guests allowed to attend a wedding will be scrapped on June 21, despite a four-week delay to the lifting of other coronavirus restrictions.

Now the government is giving the wedding industry a further boost — by making it easier for weddings to be held outdoors. From the start of July, permitted wedding venues will include beaches, parks, private gardens, cruise ships and the outdoor areas of venues that are already licensed.

It will be possible for a couple to hold the entire ceremony outside, which means they can invite an unlimited number of guests to the service.

The change will potentially benefit three out of four couples: more than 75 per cent of those tying the knot in England and Wales are non-religious weddings or civil partnerships.

Under the existing laws for approved premises, such as a hotel, the legal wedding or civil partnership ceremony must take place in an approved room or other structure.

Although the limit on the number of wedding guests will be removed this week, social distancing rules continue to limit the number of people allowed to gather in indoor venues. Singing and dancing also remain restricted.

Suzie Bailey, managing director of the Tudor Barn, a wedding venue in Eltham, southeast London, said that she had recently looked into building a permanent structure on its lawn to facilitate outdoor weddings.

“We often have couples inquiring about whether they could get married outdoors,” she said. “We have been looking at building a structure with three sides and were starting the process of getting planning permission, so this is great news — and means we will be able to accommodate the request of our couples much more easily.”

Natasha Grant, a wedding planner from Kent, also welcomed the move. “People should be able to have the wedding they want,” said Grant, who runs Pearline Events. “However, it’s unclear what that means in practice given the current restrictions on singing and dancing.

“I am sure getting married outdoors will be extremely popular even given the British weather, which can be a little unpredictable.”

Sarah Dann, a celebrant from Bexley, southeast London, said: “I am all in favour of flexibility and it’s great to see that we are moving with the times, although the great British summer is not looking so great this year.”

The lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, said the change would allow couples to “celebrate in the way that they want”, adding that “this step will support the marriage sector by providing greater choice and helping venues to meet demand for larger ceremonies”.

The statutory instrument will be laid in the Commons on June 30 to amend the regulations, and the change will take effect the following day. When parliamentary time allows — most likely next year — the government will also legislate to allow religious marriages to take place outdoors.

In Scotland, weddings can already take place anywhere, including in castles and on remote islands. Northern Ireland does not have location restrictions for the ceremonies, but civil weddings can take place only in approved venues.

A Law Commission report later this year will present options for further reforms, which will then be considered by the government. They include offering couples more flexibility to form their own ceremonies, allowing it to take place in a much broader range of locations, and powers to hold weddings remotely in a national emergency.

Other proposed changes would see the removal of “unnecessary red tape”, such as allowing couples to give notice of their intent to marry online or by post instead of only in person. Prescribed words would be scrapped to give couples “greater freedom” and civil ceremonies would be allowed to include religious elements, such as hymns and readings.