New wedding rules banning receptions in private gardens but allowing them for up to 15 people in Covid-secure outdoor venues have been blasted by a think tank.
The bridal roadmap out of lockdown opens the way for couples to get married again, and small-scale outdoor receptions will be allowed within a fortnight’s time.
But there will be strict limits on numbers of guests and pandemic regulations will make ceremonies a shadow of the celebrations for which couples will have hoped.
New regulations will come in on April 12 under step two of the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown in England which will also allow 15 guests at a ceremony.
Receptions can then take place for the same group size but must be ‘in the form of a sit down meal and in any Covid-19 secure outdoor venue that is permitted to open’.
The Government advice, which was updated today, adds that such receptions ‘must not take place in people’s private gardens or public outdoor spaces’.
Social distancing rules lasting until at least June 21 say anyone who attends should stay at least two metres away from anyone who is not in the same household bubble.
But the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that the couple may kiss, despite there being no specific exemption within the rules for anyone who is not living together.
David D’Arcy and his wife Hayley Collins get married during their socially distanced wedding at St Anne’s Church in Aigburth, Liverpool, on July 5 last year
Mr D’Arcy and Ms Collins’s socially distanced wedding in Aigburth, Liverpool, in July last year
The Government advice for April 12 onwards, which was updated today, states receptions of up to 15 people ‘must not take place in people’s private gardens or public outdoor spaces’
The full Government guidance on receptions from April 12 state: ‘Receptions can take place with up to 15 people in the form of a sit down meal and in any Covid-19 secure outdoor venue that is permitted to open. Such receptions must not take place in people’s private gardens or public outdoor spaces.’
Marriage campaigners have accused Ministers of failing to do enough to support people under high pressure during lockdown to keep couples and families together by encouraging them to marry.
How the roadmap out of lockdown will affect weddings in England
Advice taken from the Government’s guidance for small marriages and civil partnerships, which can also be viewed by clicking here:
From March 29
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies can continue to take place for up to 6 people only but will no longer be limited to exceptional circumstances.
Receptions are not permitted. However, small gatherings can take place in line with social contact limits. Therefore, they may take place outdoors in a group of six, or two households (including support bubbles, if eligible to form one).
Step 2 – no earlier than April 12
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are permitted for up to 15 people in COVID-19 Secure venues that are permitted to open or where a broader exemption applies.
Receptions can take place with up to 15 people in the form of a sit down meal and in any COVID-19 Secure outdoor venue that is permitted to open. Such receptions must not take place in people’s private gardens or public outdoor spaces.
Step 3 – no earlier than May 17
Weddings and civil partnership ceremonies are permitted for up to 30 people in COVID-19 Secure venues that are permitted to open.
Receptions can also proceed with up to 30 people in a COVID Secure indoor venue, or outdoors.
Further details on receptions at this Step will be updated in due course..
Step 4 – no earlier than June 21
At Step 4, the government aims to remove all limits on weddings, civil partnership ceremonies and receptions. This will be subject to the outcome of the scientific Events Research Programme, which will include a series of pilots using enhanced testing approaches and other measures to run events of larger sizes.
At each step anyone working is not included in the limit for ceremonies or receptions weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, and receptions, can only take place in venues that are permitted to be open at each Step. For further information, please refer to the guidance on closing certain businesses and venues in England.
Former High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge, who set up the Marriage Foundation think tank, told MailOnline: ‘Sadly the Government has failed to take the opportunity to clear up the muddled wording and thinking on wedding ceremonies.
‘After producing guidelines that prevented a bride and groom kissing or holding hands during their wedding if they came from different households, now you can’t hold a reception for 15 in a private garden, but a commercial outdoor space is fine.
‘No one doubts that drafting these regulations is easy, but producing the contradictory and bizarre, leads to lower compliance and the real possibility that loving couple who are simply trying to enjoy their special day with families and friends will fall foul of them.’
Sir Paul concluded: ‘What is particularly disappointing is that the Government continues to ignore the size of the wedding venue and the use of lateral flow tests to allow slightly larger groups to attend and participate in a ceremony.’
During the winter lockdown weddings were allowed only in ‘exceptional’ circumstances – a phrase that usually means one of the couple is terminally ill and so the marriage must be solemnised quickly.
Weddings may however now go ahead for ordinary couples, as long as the restrictions are observed.
The new rules may affect as many as 100,000 couples who have delayed weddings since ceremonies and receptions were banned last year.
The regulations state that from today, couples can marry without exceptional circumstances, but only six people may attend and there can be no reception.
From April 12, if the coronavirus continues to retreat, 15 people may go to a wedding, and there can be receptions for 15 guests in outdoor venues – but not in private gardens.
From May 17 the guest list can expand to 30, and receptions for 30 can be held in or outdoors in ‘covid-secure’ locations.
All restrictions may be lifted from June 21 if the timetable out of pandemic holds.
A paper put out by the Business and Communities departments said: ‘Marriages and civil partnerships are a vital part of our society, uniting couples to start their new life together and affording certain legal rights.
‘However, by their very nature, in bringing families and friends together, they are social events which are particularly vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19 and restrictions have therefore been necessary to reduce the risk of transmission.’
Sir Paul said: ‘During lockdown the number one support strategy is a healthy and easy close domestic relationship.
‘Obviously marriage is the highest quality expression of this. The Government is completely missing the point about the significance of facilitating weddings and marriage at this very difficult time.
‘It is not just about a jolly party. It is about enabling couples to bolster their mutual commitment to each other to keep their lives on an even keel. It is time they took the whole subject much more seriously and prioritised reviewing the existing restrictions.’
Former High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge, who set up the Marriage Foundation think tank, said the Government is ‘missing the point about the significance of facilitating weddings’
He added: ‘The Government has missed the opportunity to allow slightly larger groups to attend and participate in a ceremony through the use of lateral flow tests, forcing some couples to further delay their special day or exclude close family and friends.’
Weddings are back on! Couple set to marry today said slashing their guest list from 180 to six is a ‘positive’
One couple preparing to tie the knot today are Jess Warren-Basham, 28, and Jonny Cope, 30, from Hampshire.
Having already had to move their big day twice – they had rearranged their initial August date for March 28, meaning they were a day short of the lockdown rules easing – they have also been forced to cut their original guestlist down from 180 to just six.
Jess Warren-Basham, 28, and Jonny Cope, 30, from Hampshire, are marrying today
‘You have to look at the positives and for us, those four people, our parents, are the closest people that we would love to be there,’ Miss Warren-Basham told the BBC.
‘So you could wait but we wanted to embrace the day and we’ve got some really nice things planned, some nice cars to pick us up because we’re allowed those, we’ve got an igloo getting put in the garden so we can eat dinner under the stars. And how many couples get to say they get to spend the whole day with just six people?’
Mr Cope, a solicitor, said reducing their guests to such a small number was actually easier than having to choose 15 or 30. His father will take on the role of DJ for the big day, while their friends, who are performers, have recorded two songs for the ceremony.
Last week it emerged that larger weddings will be allowed to go ahead from April 12 after ministers relented in the face of claims 7,000 couples would have to cancel.
The industry body said the Government had clarified that hotels and other licensed premises would be allowed to stage ceremonies for up to 15 people inside when the lockdown easing takes effect.
Earlier this month it looked like weddings would only be permitted at places of worship, public buildings and outdoor hospitality settings.
But the UK Weddings Taskforce warned that would have excluded licensed venues where 71 per cent of weddings usually take place – with claims 7,000 might have to be postponed or cancelled.
It then emerged last Friday that the Government had conceded that all venues licensed to conduct ceremonies would be allowed to hold them indoors from April 12 – even though many would not otherwise be allowed to be open.
That includes hotels, conference centres, and holiday accommodation.
However, the taskforce said the Government had told them there will not be flexibility on the tough restrictions for receptions.
Clarification issued to the industry body said: ‘The rules for wedding receptions are different. The evidence shows that it is safer for people to meet outdoors rather than indoors.
‘That is why at Step 2 – no earlier than 12 April – wedding receptions can resume but must take place outdoors. These cannot take place I private gardens and should only take place in a Covid-secure venue.’
Weddings Taskforce spokesman Sarah Haywood told MailOnline: ‘ We understand why the activities of sector were curtailed when we were in the eye of the storm, battling the pandemic and protecting lives.
‘But with the successful vaccine rollout, and the opportunities offered by testing to establish the Covid-status, we do not understand why this sector is once again left behind.
‘We can host events within the guidelines just as venues who host wider events will be doing for those.’
The PM’s roadmap announced in February said that up to 15 people – not including children aged under five – could attend weddings and receptions when the loosening takes place next month.
But there was confusion about whether that merely applied to gatherings outdoors, or also meant events could be staged inside.
The schedule published in February stated that from April 12: ‘Weddings, receptions, and commemorative events including wakes will be able to take place with up to 15 attendees (in premises that are permitted to open).’
Up to six people are allowed to attend weddings from March 29, after months when ceremonies were only permitted in ‘exceptional’ circumstances.
The attendance figure is set to rise to 30 from May before all limits are removed the following month.
Boris Johnson himself is thought to be planning to marry fiancée Carrie Symonds when the restrictions are eased – although they have not revealed any date.
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