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UK law has changed in recent years to allow outdoor marriage / civil partnership ceremonies, as long as the land is at a venue approved for the purpose.

There is also provision for urgent marriages / civil partnership ceremonies to be at any location at short notice1 in circumstances where one of the parties is seriously ill, not expected to recover and cannot be moved to a place where a marriage / civil partnership could normally take place. This is known as a marriage by Registrar Generals Licence.

Given the other law changes allowing outdoor solemnizations, can such a marriage/civil partnership ceremony take place outside, for example in the garden of the housebound person's home, or the outdoor grounds of the hospice where the sick partner is receiving medical care?


1. These are sometimes collquially called "emergency marriages". See Ashford and St. Peter's Hospitals ("...speaking of emergency marriages in hospital..."); Shropshire Council Fee Schedule ("Emergency Marriage/Civil Partnerships by Registrar Generals Licence/Special Procedure"); Oxford University Hospitals—Learning from Feedback ("...asking if I can arrange an emergency marriage for a patient who has only days to live...").

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There's nothing in the Marriage (Registrar General’s Licence) Act 1970 about the location of urgent marriages, other than that you need to satisfy the registrar that you can't make it to a church or civil office.

A simple guide would be;

  • If you're talking about simply moving the death-bed outside of the hospice (for example into a hospital garden), then that would be fine.
  • If you're talking about transporting the person in an ambulance to a secondary location such as a park, then that wouldn't be fine.

The Registrar General shall not issue any licence for the solemnising of a marriage as is mentioned in subsection (1) above unless he is satisfied that one of the persons to be married is seriously ill and is not expected to recover and cannot be moved to a place at which under the provisions of the Marriage Act 1949 (hereinafter called the “principal Act”) the marriage could be solemnised

[snip]

Any marriage to be solemnised on the authority of the Registrar General’s licence shall be solemnised at the wish of the persons to be married either—

(a) according to such form or ceremony, not being the rites or ceremonies of the Church of England or the Church in Wales, as the persons to be married shall see fit to adopt

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Yes

The "emergency marriage ceremony" provisions at section 1 Marriage (Registrar General’s Licence) Act 1970 expressly remove the requirement for it to be conducted at an Approved Premises:

(1) Subject to the provisions of subsection (2) below, any marriage which may be solemnised on the authority of a marriage schedule may be solemnised on the authority of the Registrar General’s licence elsewhere than at a registered building, the office of a superintendent registrar or approved premises:

Provided that any such marriage shall not be solemnised according to the rites of the Church of England or the Church in Wales.

(2) The Registrar General shall not issue any licence for the solemnising of a marriage as is mentioned in subsection (1) above unless he is satisfied that one of the persons to be married is seriously ill and is not expected to recover and cannot be moved to a place at which under the provisions of the Marriage Act 1949 (hereinafter called the “principal Act”) the marriage could be solemnised ...

...

The only requirements (relevant to the question) are for a notice of marriage to be given to the appropriate superintendent registrar, and for the notice to comply with section 9 of the Act:

A marriage on the authority of the Registrar General’s licence shall be solemnised in the place stated in the notice of marriage.


1 Although the question asks about the procedures in the , the 1970 Act only extends to . See section 20(3):

This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Northern Ireland.

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In , which is part of the UK, a marriage can take place outdoors (assuming no other impediment to the location). An emergency marriage is the same. Certain religious bodies may have more specific rules of their own, but the requirements of the law itself are minimal.

The Scottish process, whether for a religious or civil marriage, always entails the issue of a Marriage Schedule by the district registrar, which gives permission for the ceremony to take place between the named people, at the given place and time. Normally, the proposed marriage must be publicly advertised for 28 days, to give time for any objections to be registered, but this can be shortened at the discretion of the Registrar General for Scotland - see the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977, s.6(4)-(4A). So an emergency marriage is on the same footing as any other, rather than having a separate procedure. The only difference is convincing the registrars to expedite the request.

It is also possible for the registrar to alter the date and location on an existing Schedule, if there are new justifying circumstances, such as a change in someone's medical condition.

As far as location, there is a difference between civil and religious marriages.

  • Civil marriages must take place at an "appropriate place", agreed by the parties to the marriage together with the local authority (the council), or else in the registrar's office. This can be indoors, outdoors, on a ship, etc. It can be your own home or garden, but it can't be a church or similar religious building. Each council will have its own policies on what they think is appropriate, which becomes relevant if the desired place isn't commonly used for weddings, but a hospice garden should present no problem in terms of dignity or safety.
  • The government imposes no rules on religious marriages as far as location, but leaves it to the discretion of the celebrant. The idea is that the state has decided some particular religious body is generally trusted to perform marriages in an appropriate way, and so its ministers are able to get on with it. The religion in question might have its own rules which would affect whether a minister/priest/etc. will agree to perform the ceremony. For example, while the Church of Scotland permits its ministers to celebrate marriages anywhere, at their discretion, the Catholic Church does not (but it does have well-established procedures for marriage when one of the couple is terminally ill, including dispensation from normal rules about the ceremony). Jewish ceremonies can happen outdoors - again, if the rabbi agrees - but likely under a chuppah; Sikh wedding logistics regarding the Guru Granth Sahib can be complicated even if the outdoors is possible in principle.

Further, the location on the Marriage Schedule is in the nature of a street address rather than anything more specific. A planned outdoor wedding can be moved indoors because of the weather without causing any problem with the paperwork. Similarly, as long as the registrar or celebrant is happy to do so, the marriage ceremony can take place anywhere at the agreed location, including outside. And if the location of the wedding is other than what was specified, that does not affect the validity of the marriage (per a reform in 1980, extending an original exemption so that all merely procedural defects are now covered). The celebrant may get in trouble for breaking rules - either with the state or with their religious authorities - but in terms of civil law, the couple are in the clear.

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