support our work:meet the team!
As Triratna’s Liaison officer, working with other Buddhists for the good of Buddhism in general, I have long been a member of the committee of the Network of Buddhist Organisations UK. As such, on Friday I attended a Law Commission consultation on the future of weddings law in England and Wales: specifically on weddings that are both (in our case) Buddhist and legally binding.
As the Law Commission has said:
“In our consultation paper, we make provisional proposals for a new scheme, covering every step of the process of getting married – preliminaries, the ceremony and registration – that would apply to religious weddings. Our provisional scheme is based on regulation of the officiant. That marks a significant shift in focus from the current law, under which regulation is generally based around the building in which the wedding takes place. The change would remove some of the unnecessary restrictions of the current law, and help to address unfairness in the treatment of different groups.
The consultation paper can be found online (https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/lawcom-prod-storage-11jsxou24uy7q/upl…), as can a shorter summary (https://s3-eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/lawcom-prod-storage-11jsxou24uy7q/upl…).
Your own responses to the consultation paper are welcome, here: https://consult.justice.gov.uk/law-commission/weddings.
To put it in other words, they want to move away from licensing premises for weddings to individuals being licensed as officiants, having been nominated by a religious group/body.
They do not attempt to define a religious group/body, but at present they suggest any faith group/body with at least 20 members could nominate a Buddhist marriage officiant. There was some discussion of whether this was the right minimum, some faith group representatives feeling that it was too low, enabling just two or three families to claim to claim to be a ‘body’ without any greater institutional authority. There were also fears that this could facilitate fraudulent (ie immigration) marriages or child marriages. The Law Commission stressed that the legal checks would be carried out by regulatory authorities before a marriage could go ahead.
To qualify, a given Buddhist group would need to provide either a copy of its set marriage ceremony, or demonstrate that their tradition had an established ‘belief in marriage’.
There was also discussion as to whether religious bodies would wish officiants’ training to be external or internal.
Finally, we were assured that it would remain up to the Buddhist body nominating the officiant to determine the terms under which they officiated, so that, for example, the officiant could not set themselves up as a freelance, paid, Buddhist marriage officiant, making money from anyone at all who wanted a ‘Buddhist marriage’.
Among the various faith groups represented the other Buddhist representative was Sanda McWilliam from SGI-UK. This meant there was at least some diversity of Buddhist representation: SGI have long performed weddings while Triratna on the whole tends to regard marriage as a civil matter - often replaced by, or preceded or followed by, a non-legal Buddhist ceremony.