Make your day a Milestone and not a Millstone!
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 22nd January 2002
By BETH GARDINER, ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
LONDON -- Strict rules governing civil weddings have long prevented most British couples from taking their vows in unconventional spots like beaches, mountaintops and medieval castles.
Now love may triumph over law.
Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government said Tuesday it wants to overhaul the old rules and let couples say "I do" wherever they choose.
Officials proposed scrapping the law that says weddings in England, Wales and Northern Ireland may take place only at sites licensed by local authorities and only in the daytime. Scotland makes its own rules and is also considering relaxing the regulations on civil weddings.
Under the Blair plan, city and county councils would authorize people to officiate at weddings instead of certifying locations. As long as a bride and groom could find a licensed official - known as a celebrant - willing to marry them, they could tie the knot almost anywhere they chose.
The celebrant would have to follow guidelines requiring, for example, that the site meet safety standards. Nonetheless, the change would be dramatic.
"It will create a lot more flexibility," said Helen Hitchcock, owner of Milestone Weddings, a London wedding planning firm. "There’s been an increasing trend toward stamping your own personality on your wedding ... and I think this will have a vast impact for an awful lot of people."
The government plan - which would not become law until it is approved by Parliament - also proposed eliminating a rule dating to the 19th century that requires weddings to take place before 6 p.m., before it got dark.
Those seeking a religious wedding still face tight restrictions on where nuptials can occur.
Church of England weddings generally have to take place in the church of the parish where at least one of the couple lives. Driving through the countryside and picking out a pretty little chapel for a rural wedding is out, although the Church of England is reviewing its rules and may loosen them.
At one time, civil weddings were just as strictly controlled. Couples who didn’t want a religious wedding had only one choice - unceremonious nuptials in a less-than-romantic public registry office.
Then, in 1994, Parliament gave local councils the authority to license any locale they chose as long as the sites were enclosed and appropriate to the dignity of marriage.
That gave thousands of couples the freedom to marry at hotels, manor homes and historical sites, among other designated spots. London gave the OK for weddings on the giant Ferris wheel erected beside the River Thames. to mark the millennium, and one local government in Surrey interpreted the dignity requirement loosely enough to allow a wedding in a shopping mall.
The proposed overhaul will mean couples are no longer bound by the sensibilities of local officials.
With the approval of a licensed celebrant, brides and grooms would be free to marry in their own homes and gardens - or more exotic spots.
"I can imagine a lot of people wanting to use beach locations - we’ve been asked that more times than I can remember - and also people quite like the idea of woodlands," Hitchcock said. "It’s that idea of being at one with nature ... that people are attracted to."
Boats and parks are also likely to be popular, she said, adding that one avid sports fan even asked her about planning a wedding on a favorite team’s soccer field.
Many couples have been frustrated by the existing limitations. Some have chosen to marry in a registry office, then hold an unofficial ceremony elsewhere.
"The romantic idea of a ship captain marrying you, you can’t do it," she said. "So much of what you can and can’t do... dates back hundreds of years. It’s never moved with the times."
Oliver Letwin, spokesman on domestic issues for the opposition Conservative Party, said the Tories would support Blair’s proposal.
"Marriage is a centerpiece of our society because the commitment it involves provides the best hope for a solid background for our children," he said. "We therefore welcome any measure which makes it more attractive to make that commitment."
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