The concept of a marriage service in English, as we might recognise it today, can be dated back to the middle of 16th Century Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and the Book of Common Prayer.
Two hundred years later, Lord Hardwick’s Clandestine Marriage Act of 1753 enshrined in law that a marriage was not valid unless it had been performed by a church minister in a church or a chapel, be that within the Anglican or Roman Catholic faith. Although a church marriage was the norm for most people, there was a significant minority of marriages that were irregular in some way – couples not marrying in a parish where they were resident, couple being married by a minister but not in a church, couples marrying without banns having been properly read or a licence being correctly issued. The 1753 Act made the penalties for these irregular marriages more serious.
In 1836 provision was made for marriages to take place outside of a church, in register offices. Quaker marriage had been the only non-conformist marriages allowed to take place outside of the Anglican church but after 1836 other non-conformist churches could conduct marriages in their own place of worship.
The legal age for marriage was only raised to 16 by the Age of Marriage Act of 1929, before this the legal age of was fourteen for males and twelve for females, although couples marrying under the age of twenty one were supposed to have parental or judicial consent. The Family Law reform Act of 1987 reduced the age for needing parental consent to 18 years.
From 1994 marriages were permitted in approved premises other than churches and register offices. In 2005 laws were passed to recognise same-sex civil partnerships with partners given many of the rights afforded to those who married in register offices. From 2014 same-sex weddings have been recognised.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 comes into force on Monday 27 February 2023; this Act raises the minimum marriage and civil partnership age to 18 and removes all consent requirements.
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