Marriage and civil partnership
Number of marriages and civil partnerships
5. The Scottish Government published the fourth 'Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020: Report on Marriage and Civil Partnership' on 15 February 2021. The report covered the reporting period from 1 December 2020 to 31 January 2021. At the time of reporting, NRS were aware of 1904 marriages having been solemnised and 13 civil partnerships having been registered in that period.
6. Due to a delay in completed marriage schedules being returned to registrars following ceremonies, NRS have since become aware of a further 20 marriages having been solemnised bringing the total number to 1924 marriages between 1 December 2020 and 31 January 2021. NRS have not since become aware of any further civil partnerships having been registered during that period.
7. This report covers the period from 1 February 2021 to 31 March 2021 inclusive. At the end of the reporting period, NRS were aware of 954 marriages having been solemnised and 5 civil partnerships having been registered in that period.
8. Further marriages and civil partnerships may have taken place during the reporting period which have not yet been entered into the IT system as, in the case of a religious or belief ceremony, there can sometimes be a delay between the ceremony taking place and the return of the marriage or civil partnership schedule to the district registrar.
9. As part of their existing work on publishing statistics on vital events, NRS provide quarterly figures on their website on the number of marriages and civil partnerships taking place.
10. The Scottish Ministers and the Registrar General have taken steps to ensure that the solemnisation of marriages and the registration of civil partnerships continues to be available in Scotland during the emergency period. During the reporting period, gatherings were subject to restrictions but exceptions to those restrictions have ensured that it has remained possible for marriage ceremonies and civil partnership registrations to take place safely both indoors and outdoors with limited numbers.
11. From 15 July 2020 until 8 January 2021, it had been possible, depending on the venue, for up to 20 people from any number of households to attend a marriage ceremony or civil partnership registration.
12. Following the imposition of a "stay at home" requirement for level 4 areas, and with effect from 8 January 2021, the number of people who could attend a marriage or civil partnership in a level 4 area has been limited to 5 people. This number includes the couple, the registrar or celebrant, the two witnesses or no more than 6 people if an interpreter is required.
13. The continued provision of limited exceptions to the restrictions on gatherings that otherwise apply in level 4 areas for marriages and civil partnerships, recognises the importance of marriage and civil partnership to couples and to society more widely.
Strategic framework update
14. On 23 February the Scottish Government published an update to its coronavirus strategic framework. The updated strategic framework sets out the conditions which would allow for a gradual easing of restrictions. On 16 March, the First Minister announced an indicative timeline, including for marriage and civil partnership.
15. From the 26 April, provided evidence continues to support the easing of restrictions, it may be possible to allow marriage ceremonies and civil partnership registrations and related receptions to proceed with up to 50 people in attendance.
16. The timetable also indicates that if the evidence continues to support further easing, the number of people who can attend life events may be increased in June. The Scottish Government will engage with stakeholders to inform further changes to the restrictions on marriage and civil partnership.
Guidance on marriages and civil partnerships
17. The Scottish Government has published guidance to assist both people planning to get married or form a civil partnership in Scotland and the registrars or celebrants who conduct the ceremonies and registrations.
18. Guidance has been issued by the Registrar General for those intending to get married or form a civil partnership during the emergency period, which is available on the NRS website.
19. The Registrar General has worked closely with local authority registrars. Registrars process marriage and civil partnership notices; solemnise marriages and register civil partnerships when the couple wish to follow civil procedures; issue marriage and civil partnership schedules when the couple wish to follow religious or belief procedures; and register the details of marriages and civil partnerships that have taken place. The Registrar General has issued guidance to registrars through a series of pandemic advice letters.
20. Related guidance published by the Scottish Government on places of worship, hospitality and stay at home is available at:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for the safe use of places of worship - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): tourism and hospitality sector guidance - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
- Coronavirus (COVID-19): stay at home guidance - gov.scot (www.gov.scot)
Equality and human rights
21. Article 12 of the ECHR protects the right of men and women of marriageable age to marry and to start a family. Article 14 of the ECHR also protects against discrimination in the enjoyment of the right conferred by Article 12 on a prohibited ground.
22. Paragraph 24(2) of schedule 1 of the second Scottish Act provides that the steps taken by the Scottish Ministers and the Registrar General to ensure the availability of marriage must ensure that the right conferred by Article 12 is not disproportionately interfered with for reasons relating to coronavirus.
23. Through the arrangements that have been put in place, through the management of restrictions and protection levels, and through other steps set out in the report, the Scottish Ministers, in conjunction with the Registrar General, have taken steps to ensure that any impact on the right to marry has been minimised and to minimise any discriminatory effect of the restrictions.
24. The Scottish Government has engaged with religious and belief bodies on the impact of the pandemic, including the impact on marriages and civil partnerships. This work has helped to inform the guidance issued by the Scottish Government.
25. The continued availability of marriage has been of particular importance to persons of faith. For couples for whom cohabitation before marriage is incompatible with their faith, they are able to marry and to begin their married life together. From 8 January until 24 March 2021, places of worship had been generally closed in level 4 areas except for limited purposes, including to allow for a marriage or civil partnership. This allowed couples of faith to continue to marry in accordance with the rites of their faith, even when those rites have to be performed in a place of worship.
26. However, reducing the number of persons permitted to attend marriage ceremonies may have an impact for members of those religions that have a requirement or preference for more people to be present at a ceremony than the legal minimum. The Scottish Government undertook to review the impact on religious bodies and people of faith of reducing numbers who can attend to 5 or 6 people and sought views from their representatives.
27. The Scottish Government will continue to engage with key stakeholders, including religious and belief bodies, to consider the impact of the marriage and civil partnership restrictions on rights and equality.
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