On 19th July 2022, the Law Commission published its final report into wedding law reform in England & Wales. It is now in the hands of the Ministry of Justice, which has until July 2023 to submit its full response. We recommend that all celebrants who would like to see change make an appointment to speak to their MP at the earliest opportunity. Here we offer some advice for celebrants on speaking to MPs about wedding law reform.
We are also delighted to have secured a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons on Tuesday 15th November 2022, which is open to all MPs to attend. At this event two Law Commission representatives, along with the AOIC team, will be giving presentations to MPs explaining why wedding law reform is needed and the importance of including independent celebrants. When you meet with your MP, please do invite them to attend this event. If you’re a non-AOIC member, please contact us for details and a copy of the invitation.
Contact your local MP
You can find your local MP’s contact details by visiting members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP and entering your postcode.
Send your MP an email to explain in brief why you would like to speak to them and request a meeting in person. Be sure to include your name and full address at the top of your correspondence, otherwise it’s not likely to be read.
Don’t be deterred if you can’t secure a meeting straight away – keep trying. Your MP is there to look out for the interests of their constituents, and this is an important issue that:
a) affects you and your livelihood
b) affects many other of their constituents (couples wanting to get married)
c) is time-sensitive.
So you have a valid reason to be in your MP’s office!
If you still find it difficult to secure a meeting, find out if they run MP surgeries and attend one of these. This information should be available on their website.
Know the recommendations
In advance of your meeting, ensure that you have read at least the summary of the Law Commission documentation to understand what is being recommended. The points particularly relevant to celebrants can be found on pages 2, 3, 13 and 21-24 of the summary document. It may be helpful to print out these pages and highlight key sections to take to your meeting.
In short, the Law Commission recommends:
- moving to an officiant-based system (as opposed to the current buildings-based system)
- considering the inclusion of new groups who could act as officiants – independent officiants and/or non-religious belief officiants
- allowing officiants to conduct ceremonies in a wider variety of locations, including private homes and gardens
- giving couples greater choice over the form their ceremonies take, e.g. a blend of religious/spiritual and secular content.
How to approach the meeting
Speaking to our MPs is not about ‘campaigning’. We should approach it simply as a conversation between two people – one of whom has pledged to look after the interests of the other!
It may be helpful to begin the meeting by asking how much your MP already knows about the wedding law reform proposals. If they do know about them, what do they think? As well as getting your own points across, it’s important to listen to their opinion on the reform – and heed any advice they have to give.
Explain what you do and why couples book you
Try to get across the unique service you offer to couples and the demand that already exists for independent celebrant weddings.
Statistics will be helpful here, so take a copy of the AOIC’s White Paper and share some key figures to illustrate this. E.g. independent celebrants lead over 10,000 weddings a year, providing a fully personalised service to the 44% of the population who do not identify with a particular religion or belief system, as well as a proportion of couples of faith and mixed faith.
It will also be helpful to point out that independent officiants are licensed to conduct marriages in other common-law jurisdictions, such as Jersey, Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada, so this is not an untested approach.
Explain the difference between independent celebrants and humanist celebrants
A recent High Court ruling found that the current marriage law was discriminatory against couples who identify as humanist, but Humanists UK was asked to wait until the outcome of the Law Commission review to see change. We are pleased to see that both humanist and independent officiants are included in the final recommendations, and we ask MPs to include both options as part of the reform.
Explain to your MP that the vast majority of celebrants are independent, not humanist. Also explain that only 5% of the population identify as humanist, therefore recognising humanist weddings alone would not solve the discrimination issue in full (see AOIC White Paper for key stats here).
Explain that more piecemeal reform would not be time- or cost-efficient; rather we ask them to delay recognising humanist weddings until they have considered the Law Commission’s proposals in full.
What are we asking for?
Think about what you would like to specifically ask your MP to do to support you, e.g.
- attend the Law Commission and AOIC’s reception in the House of Commons on Tuesday 15th November
- share their thoughts on the reform proposals and give advice on next steps
- read the Law Commission report and AOIC White Paper
- write to the Ministry of Justice
- table a question in Parliament
- delay recognising humanist marriage until the wider review has been fully considered.
A summary of the key points to get across
- The need for reform – The Law Commission concludes that wedding law in England & Wales is “failing to support marriage” and reform is needed for couples to “celebrate their weddings in a way that is meaningful to them, protecting their freedom of expression and belief.” We therefore ask MPs to take these proposals seriously.
- Wholescale not piecemeal reform – Yet more piecemeal reform of the law would waste time and money. The Law Commission has considered the law from all angles, therefore we ask MPs to delay recognising humanist marriage and focus on the proposals for wholescale reform.
- Not all celebrants are humanist – In fact, the vast majority are independent. Only 5% of the population identify as humanist, therefore recognising humanist weddings alone will not solve the discrimination issues that exist.
- The value of independent celebrants – Independent celebrants are the only types of officiants who can provide a fully personalised and meaningful service to the 44% who do not identify with a particular religion or belief system, and to mixed-faith couples.
- How this law change will affect you – While the focus should be on the needs of couples getting married, don’t forget to tell your MP how this affects YOU. Your MP is there to support the needs and livelihoods of their constituents, so make it personal and tell them why this matters.
The AOIC is holding an online webinar for members on 14th September on speaking to MPs about wedding law reform. For those who missed it, this will be available to view on the members’ CPD page soon.
You may also wish to view our video presentations featuring Nick Hopkins from the Law Commission and Russell Sandberg. These provide a very helpful summary of the recommendations and their implications for celebrants.
Please feel free to contact the AOIC if you would like any further help or guidance in advance of speaking to your MP.
Thank you for your support. Together we can make change happen!
Filed Under: Celebrant weddings, Wedding law reform
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