Marriage Law Consultation

Closes 18 Feb 2022

Opened 15 Nov 2021

Overview

The Minister of Finance, Conor Murphy MLA, is seeking views on two separate issues:

  1. A proposed legislative change that would see the inclusion in our marriage law of belief marriage (marriage solemnised by a celebrant who subscribes to a non-religious philosophy such as humanism).
  2. The minimum age at which people can legally marry or enter into a civil partnership, currently 16.

Changing the marriage laws to include belief marriage would put belief marriage on an equal footing with religious marriage. We are proposing to take this step in order to bring about equality of treatment in line with the judgments of the High Court and the Court of Appeal in the Smyth case in 2017. Legislation to include belief marriage in our marriage law is therefore, in the view of the Department, required on account of a clearly stated obligation set out by the courts. The present consultation is thus seeking views only on the detail of that change— change which the courts have already determined should occur—and on some related matters.

The minimum age at which a person can marry or enter into a civil partnership is entirely separate from the issue of belief marriage. Under current law, people aged 16 and 17 can marry, or form a civil partnership, conditional on parental consent. (No consents are required for people aged 18 and over). The United Nations has criticised the availability of marriage to 16 and 17 year olds here and in other jurisdictions. This is part of a wider campaign against child marriage that has been supported by international NGOs and by local groups and stakeholders. However, we are under no obligation to legislate on minimum age. The principal purpose of the present consultation in respect of marriage age is to collect as diverse a range of views as possible on that subject on the understanding that these might influence future policy debate. A consultation document setting out the background to these policy areas is available below and can also be accessed via the Department of Finance website (www.finance-ni.gov.uk/consultations)

Why your views matter

Your views on these issues are important and will help shape Government policy. 

Following the closing date, all responses will be analysed and the Department will publish a summary of responses to the consultation at https://www.finance- ni.gov.uk/publications.

All personal data will be handled in accordance with UK data protection legislation.

Please give us your views

Audiences

  • Citizens

Interests

  • Policy Development