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Oxford University demographer John Haskey has charted the history of marriage since early Victorian times by analysing datasets looking at the manner of solemnisation and denomination in England and Wales. He finds that the rapid rise in marriages in Approved Premises over the past 20 years is one of the fastest changes observed over the last 170 years. Until the Act came into effect, most first marriages for both partners were religious ceremonies. In 2012, however, 70% of all weddings were civil marriages, with 85% of those in Approved Premises, and religious marriages lagged behind at 30% – the smallest proportion recorded since national marriage registration began in 1837. In 2012, 85% of civil marriages were in Approved Premises, such as hotels, castles, stately homes or sports and leisure centres.
The Marriage Act 1994 opened up a wide variety of premises permitted by local authorities for civil marriages. ‘Approved Premises’, included hotels, castles, stately homes or sports and leisure centres. The changes in the Act meant couples were no longer restricted to holding their civil marriage ceremony at a Register Office and also could marry outside their district of residence. Haskey says these two extensions of civil marriage are arguably the most important development in civil marriage since it was first introduced in 1837.
In 1995/96 (covering the first 21 months of the Marriage Act), only 3% of first marriages for both partners were solemnised in Approved Premises, with 60% of first timers opting for religious ceremonies and 36% having Register Office marriages. However, by 2011, 53% of first marriages were in Approved Premises, 37% chose a church wedding and 10% were married in a Register Office.
The research shows that in the past, the previous marital status of the spouses played a major role in where marriages were, or could be, solemnised, and to some extent still does. Until 1996, the trend in the proportion of religious marriages follows almost exactly that of first marriages; and civil marriages those of remarriages involving a divorced partner.