Weddings are big business. It is estimated that 41.6 million weddings take place globally every year and approximately 250,000 within the UK. The £242 billion global industry was particularly hit following the outbreak of Covid-19 last year. It is estimated that the UK alone lost £5.6 billion last year due to cancellations or postponing of wedding celebrations.
Whilst weddings and civil partnership ceremonies can still take place in the UK in certain circumstances, Tier 4 restrictions, for example, have limited attendance to 6 people (excluding the celebrant) and can only happen where there is an urgency to be married, for example - serious ill health.
There is currently no legal process in the UK that creates a valid online marriage. Couples who wish to marry online have to do so under the laws of another jurisdiction. It is important for couples to seek independent advice to determine whether their marriage formed in another jurisdiction would be recognised as a valid marriage under UK law.
The Law Commission has proposed that remote / online ceremonies should be able to take place in cases of emergencies. If ceremonies can continue to take place during lockdown, businesses involved in the wedding industry could continue to operate as couples who wish to marry in their back garden may still want florists and set designers to prepare the “stage” for the wedding.
In April last year, New York Governor – Andrew Cuomo – allowed couples to obtain licences and marry “utilizing audio-video technology”. The online set up had to allow direct interaction between the couple, the witnesses and the celebrant. Many other US states also provide for remote ceremonies and it was only the other week that we saw the marriage of a bride based in Mexico and a groom based 5,000 miles away in the UK. A German company oversaw the wedding in accordance with the law of the State of Utah.
Whilst there is no legal process in the UK to create a valid online marriage, UK businesses can still find a role in helping those who decide to marry under the laws of another jurisdiction – including, provision of technology support for cameras, sound, lighting and internet connection which will be vital to ensure that the ceremony can be viewed online without a hitch. Flowers and make-up artists may still be needed, albeit on a reduced scale. Smaller wedding venues could even become more appealing to couples who want their guests to log on and just “attend” the ceremony online.
For couples who wish to focus on the ceremony, set designers could see an increased demand for their services to ensure that guests are given that wow factor when they view the ceremony. More celebrants will be needed as the industry grows and the profession in the UK is likely to attract new applicants given that earnings can even be up to £4,000 a ceremony.
Zoom weddings are here to stay. It will still take time for the UK Government to consider the Law Commission’s proposals, but UK businesses should not hesitate to follow our friends across the pond where similar opportunities have already been seized.