Does the UK government recognize Sikh weddings as legal? This question has always troubled my Sikh friends and me, so we sought to find out the UK’s current legal position. What we found out was fantastic.
Is a Sikh wedding legal in the UK? The short answer is yes, it is legal. Like you are about to find out, though, a Sikh wedding must occur in a registered building for it to be considered legal. There must be at least two witnesses present with either a civil registrar or an authorized person (priest) present. Both parties must also consent to the marriage.
Sikh weddings are common in the UK because of a high Sikh population in the country. Strangely though, not so many Sikhs know or understand what it takes to have the UK government recognize their weddings’ legality. Contrary to what many Sikhs in the UK believe, the process is simple.
It goes almost without saying that the United Kingdom isn’t just a multicultural nation. It is also ethnically diverse. Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the country gets to experience its citizens celebrate their marriages in different ways according to their respective faiths and customs. So, where exactly does the Sikh religion come in?
First off, it is essential to note that the UK government guarantees freedom of worship. This means Sikhs can gather and observe any of their religious or cultural activities, including weddings. There is an exception, though – where the exercising freedom of worship involves an illegal act, then the government will intervene. The UK government will, for instance, step in to stop a Sikh wedding ceremony where a child is involved. In this case, a child, or rather a minor, means anyone under the age of 18.
Sikh Wedding Recognition
It is not enough for a Sikh to marry at the Gurdwara and leave it at that. Even where one has a colorful Anand Karaj, the wedding won’t be recognized until the parties register it. Before then, though, the wedding must satisfy a few legal requirements.
Parties to a Sikh wedding must first give notice of their marriage in advance. This is usually at least 30 days. The wedding must also take place at an approved venue. An approved venue, in this case, includes the Gurdwara. It doesn’t end there. The wedding ceremony must be carried out in the presence of a person authorized to register marriages.
During the wedding, parties must sign the marriage certificate. This must be witnessed by at least two people. In traditional English weddings, this was usually the bridesmaid and the best-man. The person authorized to register marriages must also sign the certificate.
The Anand Karaj
This is exactly where the Anand Karaj comes into the picture. That’s because, for many Sikhs who choose to marry in the UK in accordance with the English laws, the Anand Karaj still holds more significance. Sikhs don’t even consider themselves as duly married until they go through the Anand Karaj. The civil ceremony usually comes in later as a mere formality.
Whether a Sikh marriage is legally recognized or not is a vital factor to consider because the official position will inevitably affect the rights of the parties to the Sikh wedding. If your Sikh marriage isn’t recognized by the UK laws, then the marriage is equal to that of unmarried or cohabiting partners.
Note that there is a simple rule that usually comes into play here – if a marriage is not recognized by the law, then your divorce won’t also be recognized. This may leave a party to a marriage in a precarious and financially vulnerable position if they choose to separate.
There is also the fact of what happens after a party to Sikh marriage passes on. Traditionally, the person left behind – the widow or the widower – stepped in as the automatic next of kin. Where their widow or the widower was the last surviving party to a marriage, children stepped in as the next of kin.
If one party to a Sikh marriage that wasn’t formally registered passes on without a Will, the surviving party may find it extremely hard to inherit anything from the deceased person’s estate or even benefit from the insurance and pension plans.
Registration and It’s Significance
Picture this scenario. A man goes on with the Anand Karaj in London. He chooses not to register the marriage, and his wife doesn’t question the move. Somewhere down the line, the two have a disagreement and they separate.
The man finds another woman and decides to marry her and even goes ahead to register the second marriage. It would be easy for a layperson to imagine or assume the first wife from whom the man separated would be accorded more protection. Strangely though, the second woman with a valid marriage certificate would be formally recognized as the wife.
There is an exception in relation to Sikh marriages abroad. Note that in India, there are usually no complications or extensive formalities when it comes to registering a marriage. This is hardly ever the case in the UK and other European countries.
Briefly, any foreign marriage, Sikh, or otherwise is usually legally recognized in the UK as long as the marriage ceremony was conducted in accordance with the marriage laws of the country or state in which the married was conducted. This means if you’re in India, you don’t have to fly to the UK to marry all the name of ensuring your marriage gets recognized by the UK government.
The Karaj isn’t illegal in the UK. Sikhs value it because it signifies that a union of souls is bound to happen. This is why the Anand Karaj event is sometimes referred to as a blissful union. Traditionally, it was performed at least one week before the main wedding ceremony at the Gurdwara or at the groom’s home.
Nothing much has changed today, only that in the UK and other Western countries, the Anand Kurmaj is usually a one-day affair. Therefore, the question arises, at what point exactly should a government official be involved for purposes of registering the marriage. It is easy. You don’t have to involve a government official during the wedding.
As already hinted, you can choose first to have a brief civil wedding with just a handful of friends. Later on – preferably – a week or two later, you can organize for an Anand Kurmaj. The beauty of going that route is the fact that you won’t have to spend much for the civil wedding.
Also, you can choose to have the Anand Karaj anytime you feel like after you’re done with the civil wedding. This ideally means you will have two different marriage ceremonies – one recognized by law and the other recognized by the Sikh community and an obligation to fulfill Sikh customs.
In the UK, marriage is a solemn union between two consenting adults. It doesn’t matter the religion the parties to a marriage profess. As long as they are adults and consent to getting married, their marriage will be recognized after informing the government of their intention to marry. The parties will then have at least two witnesses and present themselves to the civil registrar or marriages and proceed to exchange vows.
Sikhism begs to differ with a few things that the UK government doesn’t have a problem with. For instance, in Sikh weddings, both parties must profess Sikhism. This means that a Sikh can marry a non-Sikh in the UK in a civil marriage.
Lastly, Sikh weddings are legal in the UK. As long as no minor is involved, the wedding party will proceed. You may also want to keep in mind that in both English marriage laws and Sikhism, bigamy, which refers to marrying another person while still married to another, is outlawed.