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Religion, Marriage and Minority Women’s Rights in Family Law

Webinar: Religion, Marriage and Minority Women’s Rights in Family Law

28 January 2021 6.30 -8pm.

Southall Black Sisters and One Law for All invite you to attend this timely webinar which will take place against the backdrop of the Law Commission’s review of marriage laws in the UK (meeting details to follow).

We also call on women and women’s groups to respond to The Law Commission’s consultation on weddings law. The deadline for submission is 3 December.

The law as it stands does not recognise the experiences of many minority women who are abused, deceived or coerced into having religious marriages only. This means that if the marriage is not registered and breaks down, women are left without financial rights or legal remedies. This is a profoundly discriminatory outcome for minority, especially Muslim women. Christian women in a similar situation are able to have their marriages declared ‘void’, and thus have access to financial remedies from the courts, but women who have married in other religious systems, do not have the same access. Unregistered marriages also have other harmful consequences; they have led to a rise in polygamy and violence against women.

A recent Court of Appeal case rightly decided that English courts should not recognise religious marriages, however, by refusing to consider such marriages as void, the Court prevented minority women from gaining much needed access to legal remedies without which they cannot survive abuse and live independently. Alarmingly, it also makes women dependent on profoundly discriminatory and misogynistic religious arbitration forums for a resolution in the event of a marriage breakdown even though such forums work against women’s rights and expose them to the risk of further abuse.  

This makes changes in marriage law essential in order to stop women being locked in abuse and denied access to justice. It is vital that we end such discrimination and uphold the principle of gender equality. 

We call for a law that requires all religious marriages to be registered and for a religious marriage to be deemed void where women are coerced, deceived or threatened into only having a religious marriage. 

The Consultation 

If you – or someone you know – has faced coercion, deception and control in having only a religious marriage but not a civil one, please take the time to submit a response. We will be happy to help with submission if you are unable to do this on your own. Or if you think the law discriminates between religions and against minority women, please also respond. Please also send us a copy of any submission made. 

Responses to the Law Society consultation can be submitted using an online form or by email to weddings@lawcommission.gov.uk or post to Weddings Team, Law Commission, 1st Floor, Tower, 52 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AG.

The Law Commission invites a response to the following questions in particular: 

1.58 We invite consultees to tell us if they are in a marriage that is not recognised by the law, whether celebrated in a religious or non-religious ceremony. And if so:

(1) did you understand that the marriage would not be recognised by the law at the time of the wedding, and if not, when did you find out?

(2) was it your choice not to have a legally binding wedding (and if so, what were your reasons for doing so)?

(3) have you experienced any consequences from not being in a legally recognised marriage?  

1.59 We invite consultees to tell us about any legal barriers that prevented them from having a legally binding wedding that was meaningful or personal to them, whether they are legally married or not.

For more information, contact:

Pragna Patel and Janaya Walker, Southall Black Sisters: pragna@southallblacksisters.co.uk, janaya@southallblacksisters.co.uk – 0208 571 9595

Gita Sahgal and Maryam Namazie, One Law for All:  www.onelawforall.org.uk – onelawforall@gmail.com

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Every penny helps in the fight against religious based laws and in defence of equality and secularism.

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