WE’RE IN THE peak of wedding season — and the heatwave the country experienced last July appears to have convinced some couples to consider planning their ceremony outdoors this summer.
However, concerns have been raised over what’s been criticised as an ‘overly narrow’ interpretation of legislation by the General Registrar which has prevented some al fresco ceremonies from going ahead.
The Humanist Association, which solemnises hundreds of weddings a year, is planning to take legal action over the situation. It confirmed last month that it had suspended all outdoor ceremonies until further notice:
This is in response to a requirement, imposed on us by the General Register Office and by some local registrars, that all solemnisation ceremonies must take place indoors, in a building.
It follows a number of cases where couples were told they would have to get married inside a hotel, rather than in a marquee outside. The recent confusion as to whether marquees or other outdoor venues were suitable locations apparently arose after the Registrar General sent out a guidance letter on the issue.
The issue was raised in the Dáil by Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer yesterday, who complained that decisions on where people can get married or enter civil partnerships were being left to the general registrar’s interpretation of the “vague” Civil Registration Act, “rather than being made by the elected representatives of the people”.
“The effect of the legislation, as currently interpreted and applied, is that civil marriages and partnerships must take place in a fixed structure – a place with four walls and a roof – that is open to the public,” Buttimer said.
“Given that no guidance is provided by the Act or by supporting regulations, it is easy to understand how someone can reach this interpretation.
“The idea behind this interpretation is that it ensures the venue can be easily identified and accessed in the event that there is an objection to the union.”
But Buttimer said the “overly restrictive” interpretation was having a major impact on what should be “life-altering and memorable life events”.
Responding, junior minister Fergus O’Dowd (standing in for Social Protection Minister Joan Burton) noted that the guidance letter had been sent by the Registrar General after “it came to his attention that it was intended to have a number of marriages at private houses and at places where the exact locations were uncertain”.
He went on to stress the independence of the office:
“Section 8 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 outlines the functions of an tArd-Chláraitheoir. Section 8 (4) states provides that “An tArd-Chláraitheoir shall be independent in the performance of his or her functions”.
Section 8 (5) provides that “An tArd-Chláraitheoir may do all such acts or things as are necessary or expedient for the purpose of the performance of his or her functions”.
However, O’Dowd confirmed that “the Minister for Social Protection is seeking clarification from the Attorney General on the question of where marriages can be legally executed under the provisions of the Civil Registration Act 2004″.
The advice should be received shortly, he said “and the next steps will be determined on that basis”.