'We're Scared We'll Be Torn Apart' – Lockdown Wedding Ban Leaves Couples In Legal Limbo

As wedding season approaches, couples across the country have had to cancel their nuptial plans, putting their entire lives on hold.

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“I feel stuck. It has been very depressing for the both of us because we cannot live together until we are married.”

Sarah, a marketing communications student in London, met her fiancé through a mutual friend in 2017. They were due to get married earlier this month but – like hundreds of other couples – have had their wedding cancelled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Since the government announced the lockdown on March 23, all social gatherings such as weddings and baptisms have been put on hold. And while lockdown restrictions are beginning to ease in England, there has been no news on when weddings will be allowed again.

On May 11, justice secretary Robert Buckland told the BBC he was giving “anxious consideration to the effect of the potential changes” to rules on marriage ceremonies, telling people to “watch this space – we’re working on it”.

For some couples, this state of limbo has been particularly excruciating.

Sarah and her fiancé are both originally from Thailand – he has indefinite leave to remain in the UK, while she is on a tier 4 student visa, which expired on Sunday.

In order to legally stay in the country, Sarah needs to submit a marriage certificate to meet the requirements of a spouse visa – an impossible task under current lockdown regulations.

To make matters worse, she is also unable to return to her home country. Thailand has issued a ban on all incoming international flights until June 30.

“It’s very worrying,” she told HuffPost UK. “I know many people who are in the same position as me and we are all desperately worried about what to do next.”

Geraldine Calog and Darrel Wilson met via Facebook last year; their wedding was booked for April 17. It was going to be a simple ceremony in Dumfries and Galloway, with a bigger celebration planned in Geraldine’s home town in the Philippines for later this year.

Darrel Wilson and Geraldine Calog were due to get married on April 17.
Darrel Wilson and Geraldine Calog were due to get married on April 17.

The couple now worry they won’t be able to reschedule their wedding before Geraldine’s fiancée visa runs out at the end of August, and hope the government will allow small weddings so she can have her spouse visa processed.

“We feel so down,” the couple told HuffPost UK. “We’ve been through a lot just to have Geraldine come over and get married.

“We’re scared we will be torn away from each other. All we want is a normal family life together.”

Dr Lusine Navasardyan, a solicitor specialising in immigration law, said her firm had received a lot of calls from individuals like Geraldine and Sarah, who find themselves in danger of breaching UK immigration laws – and the penalties that follow.

“There’s a risk they’ll find that they’ve become so-called ‘overstayers’,” she told HuffPost UK.

“As overstayers, they face a whole bunch of issues: they won’t have the right to work in the UK, their current employers may be penalised, they could lose access to their bank accounts.”

Navasardyan said the coronavirus lockdown had “completely stopped” all immigration, as the closure of appointment centres meant there have been no new applications from abroad.

“Lots of people have called asking how they can bring their families to the UK – their partners, their wives or husbands, their children,” she said.

“There’s nothing they can do. They just have to wait.”

One study predicted the global wedding industry will lose £87.5bn and 36% of all wedding businesses will permanently close due to the financial impact of the virus.

Approximately 64% of 2020 weddings had been impacted by coronavirus, either because of postponements, cancellations or travel logistics, according to the London-based wedding planning app, Bridebook.

For Dave and Amy, both originally from South Africa and now living in Bristol, the cancellation of their wedding has stopped them moving in and starting their lives together.

“We’re both strong Christians,” Dave, 33, told HuffPost UK. “We don’t want to live together until we’re married – that’s what we’ve been taught.”

He said he was “fed up of living apart” from his fiancée and that they were considering asking their local minister to marry them even if the marriage is not recognised by law.

“For us, the most important thing to marry in the sight of God.”

Christian couple Dave and Amy: "We can't put it off for another eight months or more."
Christian couple Dave and Amy: "We can't put it off for another eight months or more."

Since the lockdown, local churches have been inundated with requests from couples like Dave and Amy, according to John Stevens, National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).

“The problem is that the government has a very different view of what marriage is from religion,” he told HuffPost UK.

“For society, marriage is a celebration of a relationship that has already existed. Many couples are already living together so the wedding is an opportunity for a big party and celebration.

“But for evangelical Christians, it’s a matter of conscience. It’s not an option to move in together before marriage. The lockdown has prevented them from moving forwards.”

Stevens said that while the FIEC has advised couples to wait until legal marriages are allowed to take place, “a small number of churches have chosen to conduct marriages knowing full well that it doesn’t meet the legal requirements.”

Nicole, 23, had every intention of waiting until the lockdown was over to get married – her wedding date was set for November 2021.

But then her fiancé’s grandmother fell seriously sick, and asked if they could get married because “she needs to see one grandchild marry” before she dies.

Nicole and her partner will hold a non-legal wedding in their local priest’s back garden in Edinburgh on May 29.

“It’s literally me, my partner, his nana, my friend and the priest,” she told HuffPost UK.

“Our full wedding will be next November and we’ll be getting remarried then too, as my family won’t see this one.”

The government’s 51-page official coronavirus lockdown document, presented on May 11, has suggested that small weddings may be allowed to take place in a matter of weeks.

From June 1, officials are “examining how to enable people to gather in slightly larger groups to better facilitate small weddings”.

The document also said places of worship might be reopened as early as July 4, provided they meet social distancing guidelines.

Amy Grant and Ben Piggott, from London, have waited to have their civil partnership for years – they first spoke to HuffPost UK two years ago. As their March 24 date drew closer, they felt “more and more nervous” and decided to cancel even before the lockdown was announced.

Amy and Ben: "It's been at the back of our minds that we don't have any legal protections."
Amy and Ben: "It's been at the back of our minds that we don't have any legal protections."

“We’ve been together for eight years,” said Amy. “We are desperately keen to have it.

“We’re both nervous to go outside. If the worst came to the worst and something happened to one of us, we would have no legal protections.”

Although weddings have officially been suspended since March 23, there have been the rare exceptions where local registrars have used emergency powers to allow marriages to take place.

In April, Middlesbrough Council allowed a 59-year-old man who learned that he may only have weeks to live after being diagnosed with cancer to marry his long-term partner, as registrar staff looked on in plastic gowns and visors.

And on Friday, a woman receiving treatment for a terminal cancer diagnosis will be allowed to get married after her family lobbied Northern Ireland’s ministers.

Kath and Adam*, from Buckinghamshire, met on Guardian soulmates and were due to have a civil partnership only 100 yards away from where they first met, two years to the day, on April 6.

The couple, who are both key workers, followed the news of the outbreak and were not surprised when they received an email informing them their ceremony had been cancelled. “It doesn’t make it less frustrating.“

Adam, who is his 50s, describes himself as being “in the sweet spot for the coronavirus” and said he was “desperate to make sure Kath would have something” in case something were to happen.

“We bought a house together,” he told HuffPost UK. “I have pensions and death benefits locked away.

“If I were to die without anyone to receive them, then they would just disappear.“

The couple are keen to get married as soon as possible. “We’ll do whatever it takes. We’ll be the very first in the queue once weddings are allowed again.”

*Names changed.