Weddings may only be able to take place with a “very limited number of people” once lockdown restrictions begin to ease, the Scottish Government has said.
Constitution secretary Mike Russell said while weddings can take place in “exceptional circumstances” at the moment – such as when a person is dying – registrars are generally not granting licences for couples to tie the knot.
New legislation coming before Holyrood to help deal with the coronavirus pandemic will not change this, he said.
Tory MSP Adam Tomkins pressed him on why the new Coronavirus Bill does not include any provisions on weddings, saying MSPs were getting an “increasing volume of increasingly anxious emails” from constituents.
He said: “As I understand, in Scots law only five people are required to be present for a lawful wedding – the registrar, the two parties and two witnesses, and there are many rooms where we can have social distancing with only five people present.”
Russell told the committee that weddings can only take place in “very limited circumstances” at the moment, adding they are only permitted if “one of the partners is dying or if somebody is about to be posted overseas, particularly in the armed forces”.
He said the Scottish Government “felt it was not possible to go any further than that at this stage”, telling MSPs on the Covid-19 Committee that registrars are “finding themselves under a great deal of pressure” because of the number of deaths they are having to register.
Russell said when lockdown eases people “will wish to see return to some form of public affirmation” of relationships via marriage, “even if it is with a very limited number of people, which it would have to be”.
He dismissed the idea of weddings taking place via video link, saying while this is happening in places such as New York, it has been “written off” by Scottish ministers because of concerns about abuse.
Russell said: “Forced marriage, for example, would be easier to bring forward if there was no physical presence there and possibility of assessing, as a registrar will often do, what the circumstances are.”
He stressed ceremonies can still be held in limited circumstances when there are “end of life issues” or “where someone requires to leave the country for work”.
Russell said: “The technical situation is presently the licences are not being issued but it could happen in those circumstances and the Registrar General has the right to do that, not only to do that but to waive the notice period.
“So it is possible to do it. Therefore a marriage is possible in those exceptional circumstances.”
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