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  • Author or Editor: Rajnaara C. Akhtar x
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This chapter explores the similar legal outcomes faced by cohabitants and those in religious-only marriages. It argues that law reform recommendations which focus solely on religious-only marriages while ignoring the often-identical outcome for cohabitees are erroneous, and that law reform providing legal rights for cohabitees will protect both types of families.

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Status, Similarities and Solutions

Cohabiting couples and those entering religious-only marriages all too often end up with inadequate legal protection when the relationship ends. Yet, despite this shared experience, the linkages and overlaps between these two groups have largely been ignored in the legal literature.

Based on wide-ranging empirical studies, this timely book brings together scholars working in both areas to explore the complexities of the law, the different ways in which individuals experience and navigate the existing legal framework and the potential solutions for reform.

Illuminating pressing implications for social policy, this is an invaluable resource for policy makers, practitioners, researchers and students of family law.

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The Evidence for Reforming Weddings Law

EPDF and EPUB available Open Access under CC-BY-NC-ND licence.

In principle, couples getting married in England and Wales can choose to do so in a way that reflects their beliefs. In practice, the possibility of doing so varies considerably depending on the religious or non-religious beliefs they hold.

To demonstrate this divergence, this book draws on the accounts of 170 individuals who had, or led, a wedding ceremony outside the legal framework. The authors examine what these ceremonies can tell us about how couples want to marry, and what aspects of the current law preclude them from doing so.

This new evidence shows how the current law does not reflect social understandings of what makes a wedding meaningful. As recommended by the Law Commission, reform is urgently needed.

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This introductory chapter explains the aims of the book and its significance both to current policy debates and to broader global debates about the regulation of marriage. It then provides some context about weddings and beliefs (both religious and non-religious) in England and Wales today to show why the topic of belief in marriage is an important one despite the apparent decline in the number of religious weddings recorded as taking place. It describes the study that underpins the book. This was a Nuffield Foundation-funded qualitative research study that explored people’s reasons for going through non-legally binding wedding ceremonies and the role of those who conduct them. It involved 170 individuals who either had had at least one non-legally binding ceremony or had been involved in conducting such ceremonies. These ceremonies may have taken place instead of or in addition to a legal wedding. They included Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, interfaith, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Sikh, and Zoroastrian ceremonies as well as ones led by independent celebrants and friends or family members. The chapter concludes by setting out the structure of the book.

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This chapter analyzes the three types of religious wedding that are explicitly mentioned in the Marriage Act 1949: Anglican, Quaker, and Jewish weddings. It explains why these three types of wedding are accorded special treatment and the legal requirements that apply to them. It also shows how formal recognition brings its own constraints. It discusses how Anglican clergy have a duty to conduct the marriages of any persons who qualify to be married in their parish, regardless of the individuals’ beliefs, unless specifically exempted from doing so. It then shows how Quaker and Jewish weddings must take place within a certain authority structure and conform to their usages; in addition, Jewish weddings are only available where both parties are Jewish. Finally, it shows how the special treatment of these weddings exists despite the differences in how they are celebrated: there is no common core that differentiates them from other forms of wedding and justifies their special treatment.

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This chapter explores the relatively new phenomenon of ceremonies led by independent celebrants. These celebrants are independent of any religious, belief, or government organization, and they conduct a range of different types of personalized non-legally binding wedding ceremonies. The chapter focuses on whether such ceremonies are used to reflect the beliefs of the parties. It provides a case study of a celebrant-led ceremony and then discusses how independent celebrants can be accommodated within the current legal framework by cooperating with civil registrars. It then examines three different dimensions of the role of belief in ceremonies led by an independent celebrant: the beliefs of the celebrant, the beliefs of couples opting for celebrant-led ceremonies, and whether and how beliefs are reflected in celebrant-led ceremonies. It concludes by considering the implications of the Law Commission’s recommendations for independent celebrants.

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This chapter focuses on those who want a friend or family member to conduct their ceremony. This is an option that has not attracted much attention to date in England and Wales, in contrast to the position in the United States, where it is a common practice. The chapter first explores a number of examples from the Nuffield Foundation-funded project in which ceremonies were led by a friend or family member. In some cases, the person asked to lead the ceremony held a specific position or had experience in conducting ceremonies, but in a number of cases, they performed it as a one-off. The chapter goes on to explore how having a friend or family member lead the ceremony enabled some couples to have a ceremony that aligned with their religious beliefs in a way that might not otherwise have been possible. It concludes by showing how the Law Commission’s recommendations would accommodate the possibility of a legal wedding being led by a friend or family member in the presence of an authorized officiant.

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This chapter explores how weddings law in England and Wales – in contrast to the position in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland – currently makes no provision for non-religious belief organizations to conduct weddings. It shows that the law was originally intended to allow for the expression of non-religious beliefs: there was (and is) no requirement that a ceremony in a registered place of worship be conducted according to any religious rites, still less those of the group that registered the building. It also shows how the concept of ‘worship’ was previously broad enough to allow non-religious belief organizations to register their buildings. While that option has since been removed by the courts’ adoption of a narrower definition of worship, the number of non-legally binding ceremonies conducted by celebrants affiliated to Humanists UK (previously the British Humanist Association) has grown. The chapter discusses how ‘personalization’ is key to Humanist ceremonies, drawing on a case study from the Nuffield Foundation-funded project. It also explores the relationship between Humanist beliefs and the choice of a Humanist ceremony, as discussed by participants in the study, and the extent to which a Humanist ceremony may also include reference to religious beliefs.

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This chapter shows how the option of getting married in a registered place of worship does not work well for Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist weddings. It explains the evolution of the law and how little thought was given to how to accommodate different religious traditions in earlier decades. It then sets out the key elements of wedding ceremonies within these different religious traditions and identifies the point at which those involved regard their marriage as coming into existence. It concludes by identifying the key constraints on Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist couples marrying in accordance with their beliefs: the limited number of registered places of worship, the difficulties in individuals becoming authorized and the intrusive role of the registrar, and the way in which the prescribed words are seen as an additional – and unwanted – civil ceremony.

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This chapter examines the position of couples who do not share the same faith or belief. It identifies two groups: ‘different-faith’ couples, where the individuals hold different religious beliefs, and ‘unshared-faith’ couples, where one person holds specific religious beliefs and the other is atheist or agnostic, or describes themself as holding no beliefs. After providing some context about the history and extent of intermarriage in England and Wales, the chapter analyzes the ways in which the law limits, both directly and indirectly, how different-faith couples can marry. It also shows how the choices made by different-faith couples sought to convey that their respective faiths were equally valued. It then shows that similar choices are faced by those couples where one holds religious beliefs and the other does not: whether to marry in a civil wedding without explicitly religious content (and if so, whether to have an additional non-legally binding religious ceremony) or in a religious wedding whose content assumes beliefs that one of them does not share.

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