Couples will be able to hold civil weddings outdoors for the first time from next month as part of a move to allow more ceremonies to take place during the Covid pandemic.
Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, is to amend the current regulations to allow outdoor civil wedding and partnership ceremonies to take place at venues such as hotels and stately homes that are already allowed to hold the ceremonies.
While the law currently requires the ceremony to be held in an approved room, couples will be able to wed in any outdoor areas at the same venue from July 1.
Due to social distancing rules, many venues have had to significantly reduce the number of guests allowed at ceremonies. The planned change in regulations could allow more people to attend civil wedding or partnership ceremonies at approved venues. Covid transmission is significantly lower outdoors compared to indoors.
Mr Buckland said: "A couple’s wedding day is one of the most special times in their lives, and this change will allow them to celebrate it the way that they want. At the same time, this step will support the marriage sector by providing greater choice and helping venues to meet demand for larger ceremonies."
The move comes ahead of a review by the Law Commission which was launched before the emergence of Covid and is examining the possibility of allowing ceremonies to be held in a much broader range of locations, including beaches, forests, public gardens and even remotely via videoconferencing software.
Ministers are planning to rush through the change by laying a statutory instrument in Parliament on June 30, which would amend the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005 with effect from July 1.
Under separate changes to Covid restrictions on June 21, the number of attendees at weddings will no longer be limited to 30. Instead, it will be determined by individual risk assessments for each venue, setting out how many people can be "safely accommodated" with social distancing measures in place.
In 2019, ministers pledged to sweep away red tape that limits weddings to "immovable and permanent" buildings after the Law Commission found the demand for open air ceremonies meant licensed venues were exploiting loopholes to "offer what are already effectively outdoor weddings".
The commission is expected to issue a report later this year recommending changes to "outdated" restrictions on the types of venues that can be used for weddings following a two-year review.
Officials have said the review could open up opportunities for civil ceremonies at sea, in private homes or on military sites for service personnel. It could also see more restaurants, hotels and pubs given approval to hold weddings.
At present, licences can only be granted by councils to established "immovable structures comprising at least a room, or any boat or other vessel which is permanently moored".