Please note this article covers legislation changes relevant only to England and Wales. This does not affect marriage registration in either Scotland or Northern Ireland, where a schedule system is already in place for marriages and civil partnerships.
Marriage registration moves online
The way that marriages are registered in England and Wales has changed. Until recently, the system for registering marriages has been paper-based, but recently passed legislation (Registration of Marriages Regulations 2021) that came into force on 4 May 2021 saw a move to an electronic register, with some important consequences for those involved in officiating marriages.
Importantly, under the new legislation, churches are still allowed to specify whether or not they will conduct same-sex weddings – there is no change to these provisions.
What are the main changes?
The changes amend the Marriage Act 1949 and reflect a move to modernise the registering of marriages in England and Wales, a process that has remained largely unchanged since Victorian times!
The register moved online
To modernise the register and enable any future amendments to be made more easily, the process moved from hard-copy paper registers to an online system of registration.
Details of both parents can now be included
Whereas previously only the details of the fathers of those being married were included in the register, details of mothers can now also be included.
Marriage certificates are provided afterwards
The legal marriage certificate is no longer to be provided at the marriage ceremony but will instead be provided to the couple once the marriage has been registered online.
How does the new system work?
The new electronic ‘schedule system’ means that the couple getting married sign a document called the ‘marriage schedule’ (or for marriages within the Church of England or Church in Wales, a ‘marriage document’) at their marriage ceremony instead of signing a paper marriage register book.
For marriages taking place in the Church of England or Church in Wales, the marriage document is still issued by the member of the clergy following ecclesiastical preliminaries (e.g. the calling of banns or the issue of a common licence). For all other marriages the marriage schedule is issued by the superintendent registrar in the district in which the marriage is to be solemnised.
All the information required for the marriage register is contained in the marriage schedule/document, which will be signed at the marriage ceremony by the couple, their witnesses, and the person(s) officiating. This is then returned to the local register office by the person officiating at the marriage ceremony, to be registered in the electronic marriage register by a registrar.
A marriage certificate can then be issued to the couple by the register office in the district where the marriage took place, or, after the marriage has been registered, it may also be issued on request from the General Register Office.
‘I’m our church’s Authorised Person – what do I need to do?’
Some things haven’t changed, so you still need to:
- do the necessary checks to ensure a couple are eligible to be married in your building, and that all details on the marriage schedule/document are correct
- (For Church of England and Church in Wales) perform the relevant marriage preliminaries (e.g. calling of the banns)
- use suitable registration ink on the marriage schedule/document
But from the 4th May 2021:
- You’re required to obtain a marriage schedule (or create a marriage document within Church of England or Church in Wales) prior to the date of marriage
- You’ll no longer complete the formal register for marriages you officiate (although you can still maintain internal records for your church’s reference)
- You’ll no longer hold blank stocks of marriage certificates or issue the certificates, but you must return all completed marriage schedules/documents to the register office before a marriage certificate can be issued
- You’ll no longer need to complete quarterly returns for marriages taking place in your building
- You’ll no longer be responsible for corrections to the register (these will be done by the Register Office)
The General Register Office (GRO) are providing training materials including digital presentations and an FAQ document to support churches in the move to the new marriage schedule system.
These resources are hosted on the Local Registration Services Association website. Clergy and Authorised Persons should have been provided with log-in details to access the materials, but for anyone without access, support can be found by emailing [email protected]
The official guidance for authorised persons will also be updated in due course to reflect the changes.