Tag Archives: Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022

Marriage age raised to 18

I must admit that I hadn’t been following the process of raising the age of marriage or civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales, so it rather took me by surprise when it was announced that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 was being implemented on 27th February.  It was introduced as a Private Members Bill by a Conservative MP, supported by the Girls Not Brides Coalition, but quickly gained cross-party support.

We may wonder why such an Act was necessary. After all very few people marry these days in their teens, let alone at 16 or 17.

When I was a teenager I attended a friend’s wedding, when she was just 16. She wasn’t pregnant or forced into the marriage. She later moved away and I lost touch so I have no idea whether the marriage survived. The social and moral context was very different back then – unmarried couples simply did not live together, effective contraception and legal abortion were not available, single pregnant girls were expected to marry or give up their babies for adoption, and sex before marriage, let alone outside it, was socially frowned upon.  In fact, marriage was for many the only way they could enjoy a sex life. It seems like another world!

At that time, the age of majority was 21, so anyone marrying below that age in England or Wales had to have permission from their parents. The rules were different in Scotland so young couples would elope to Gretna Green, just over the border, to get married.

The main intention of the Act is to protect young people from being forced into marriage. There is a wide spectrum of cultural practice, across the world and reflected in the UK, ranging from arranged marriage to forced marriage, sometimes at a very young age.  I can understand why parents might explore their networks, and maybe using a matchmaker, to find a suitable partner for their son or daughter. This may be seen as sensible in a culture where young people have limited opportunities to meet socially, and indeed is not so very different from using a dating app. But most of us would want that to be the potential starting point for a relationship, which either partner could drop out of at any time.

Posted in Op-eds | 7 Comments
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