The number of marriages in England and Wales has slumped dramatically to the lowest level on record, it was revealed today.
Provisional figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed a 10% fall to 244,710 weddings in 2005.
The drop - which followed three years of increases in numbers getting hitched - coincided with a Home Office crackdown on "sham marriages" by immigrants.
Rules were changed in February 2005 to make it more difficult for non-Europeans to win the right to stay in Britain by staging a fake wedding.
The ONS said it was unclear how the Home Office rules had affected marriage figures.
But analysis of the statistics suggests the short-lived rise in the number of marriages - when there was a noticeable jump from 249,000 in 2002 to 273,000 in 2004 - may have been driven by sham couples.
Crucially, the number of marriages taking place in ethnically-diverse London fell by a staggering 35% between 2004 and 2005, the ONS said.
Regarding the massive decline in the capital, its report said: "Clearly the effect of the change in the law is one possible factor."
From the month after the new anti-sham marriage rules came into force, there appeared to be a fall in the number of weddings taking place at "designated" register offices where non-European couples now have to attend before marrying, the document noted.
The long-term trend in marriage has been falling since 1973, the ONS said.
There were 12 marriages for every 1,000 unmarried individuals in 2005, compared with 27 per 1,000 in 1851, it added.
The proportion of marriages which were religious ceremonies showed a continued decline in 2005, the ONS said.
For the first time, fewer marriages were held in churches and other religious institutions (numbering 84,400) than in "approved premises" such as stately homes and hotels, which are now allowed to conduct civil ceremonies (88,710).
The remainder of the 244,710 overall total took place in a register office.
Separate ONS figures showed there were 18,000 civil partnerships between gay couples between December 2005 - when the form of "gay marriage" was introduced - and December last year.
Two-thirds of all civil partnerships were male.
The ONS said 10% of men and 24% of women entering a civil partnership had previously been married.