A recent plea to the government to review current wedding guidance and bring parity for couples from all faiths, has not only been ignored but actually worsened inequality. Faith and cultural weddings are now explicitly excluded from the guidelines, and this amendment has not even been acknowledged by the ‘update date’ on the document itself.
When the ‘Guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships’ document was first published on 4 July 2020, the focus was solely to enable those requiring a legal ceremony to take place. At that time, the guidance said that it ‘applies only to marriage and civil partnerships taking place in England under the law of England and Wales’ and it made it clear that ‘religious ceremonies (those not taking place under the law of England and Wales), belief ceremonies, blessings, or other non-statutory ceremonies are not covered’.conducting the ceremonies that are crucial to them.
After a plea to the government to look again at the guidelines to ensure that they offer equality to all faiths and cultures, a change was made on 24 July. However, the date shown on the the document remains 17 July whilst the updated section on ceremonies now includes the following:
‘In particularly, for religious ceremonies you should refer to the places of worship guidance. For belief ceremonies, blessings and other non-statutory ceremonies, please refer to the relevant venue-specific guidance and the guidance on social distancing.’
LaToya Patel, co-founder of SW Events and The Asian Wedding Club made her request for equality to the government in a meeting last week and says:
“The changes made still exclude whole swathes of the population, including those embarking on a multi-faith or multi-cultural union, and the Places of Worship guidance is not at all relevant to many faith and cultural weddings. Not only that but the Guidance on Social Distancing is a lot more restrictive than the general wedding guidance.”
“For example, many Hindu, traditional African, Muslim and Jewish ceremonies do not take place in a place of worship so these couples are explicitly excluded from having their faith wedding ceremonies under the same guidance as those who would like a church wedding or shortened civil ceremony.”
“It’s incredibly disheartening that the government has not taken the time to educate themselves or try to understand that all weddings are vitally important to the population they represent.”
It’s the government’s lack of understanding of the importance of cultural ceremonies that is definitely causing problems for many couples. For a vast number, it’s not the legal wedding that means they’re married in the eyes of their community, it’s the faith ceremonies that give them the status of ‘being married. Jewish couple Hannah Leader and Akiva Goldfinch explain:
“To have our Jewish ceremony is the most important part of our wedding. Without this, we can’t live together, we can’t start to think about having a family and we will not be considered married within our community. The fact that the guidelines at present give such ambiguity as to whether or not we can have our ceremony outside of a synagogue or not – whether that is seen as legal or as a blessing – is causing much distress to our families and ourselves.”
The #whataboutweddings campaign calls on the government to ensure that the wedding guidelines are amended as a matter of priority to provide marriage equality to couples of all faiths and cultures.