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The right to marry and start a family

The right to marry and start (or found) a family is protected by Article 12 of the Human Rights Act.

Key information

Last updated: 09th November 2022


This right often comes up in:
Anti-discrimination, learning disability and/or autism, LGBTQ+ rights, mental health and capacity and safeguarding people


Non-absolute right

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How might this right be relevant to my life?

This right protects our right to marry - if we are of marriageable age - and the right to start a family.

  • Other UK laws set out rules around marriage, such as:
    • the minimum age to get married;
    • issues of capacity and consent; and
    • limits on how many people you can marry at once.
  • The laws around marriage must serve a purpose and cannot be arbitrary.
  • Although this right protects your right to start a family, it does not mean that you necessarily have the right to access reproductive technologies or adoption.
  • The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 means that same sex marriage is legal in England and Wales. This applies in Scotland under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 and also in Northern Ireland under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020.
  • The Gender Recognition Act 2004 now allows trans people to obtain legal recognition of their gender, and once they have done that, to get married.

Can my right to marry and found a family be restricted by a public official?

This is a non-absolute right which means it can be limited or restricted in certain circumstances. For example, the Government can restrict this right based on national laws around marriage, for example, at what age we can marry.

If a public official is deciding to restrict your right to marry and found a family, they must go through a test. They must be able to show that their decision is:


There is a law which allows public officials to take that action or decision.


The restriction has to be for a reason set out in the law. Restrictions could be imposed on this right in the interests of public safety, to prevent crime, to protect health or morals, or to protect the rights of others.


They have thought about other things they could do, but there is no other way to protect you or other people. It is the least restrictive option. This means that blanket, automatic restrictions that apply regardless of individual circumstances will be in breach of the right to marry and found a family.


You can ask the public official about their decision or action and ask them to tell you how it was lawful, legitimate and proportionate.

If you can think of a way to deal with this situation or decision that is less restrictive to you then you can raise it with the public official as the decision may not be proportionate.

What duties do public officials have?

To respect your right:

This means public officials (including the government) should not interfere with the right to marry and found a family, unless it is necessary, and they can show that this is the case.

To protect your right:

This means that the government and people working in public bodies should take ‘reasonable and appropriate’ measures to promote our right to marry and found a family.

To fulfil your right:

When things go wrong, regarding the right to marry and found a family, there should be an investigation and steps should be taken to try and stop the same thing happening again.