Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wedding Wednesday: Civil Marriage

Originally, I was going to wrap up my Wedding Wednesday posts on different wedding US/UK traditions today, but I got quite a few questions about British civil ceremonies and I thought I might take the opportunity to explain further!  But first, I don't think it's appropriate to write any post about marriage ceremonies this week without broadcasting my support for the two currently cases before the Supreme Court:

via*

On last week's post, Meghan, an American in England with a British beau, commented, "With regards to the civil ceremony I was surprised, and a bit refreshed, about the lack of religious implication about a wedding."  I'd heard rumors about the church/state division in British weddings before beginning to plan my own wedding but have only been to one civil ceremony in the England (and that was when I was 10), so I was thrown by the total lack of flexibility.  Here's what uk.gov says:

Civil ceremonies can include readings, songs or music,
but must not include anything that’s religious - eg hymns or readings from the Bible.

Apparently, this isn't a prohibition on the part of the State; it's the Church getting territorial.  Regardless of whether or not that's true, it definitely forced Jon and me to rethink our wedding ceremony.  There were some aspects of both our faiths that we wanted to include in the ceremony; we had envisioned biblical readings, certainly, but also wanted to incorporate some rituals like the smashing of the glass that simply aren't an option in a civil ceremony in England.  

When you have a civil ceremony, you have to get everything approved by the registrar assigned to you to make sure there isn't even a hint of religion.  We don't have our license yet because of timing complications but we have had one piece of music approved by the registrar office already - Jon had to do some serious research on it before he called and then used his best powers of persuasion to convince the office that it wasn't a religious piece even though it was written by a composer best known for his religious music!  (This is true, by the way; we weren't tricking them.  It's just funny to me how the process works.)  The whole thing is so secular, in fact, that you don't even have to say any vows.  There's some formal wording that must be included for legal reasons, but anything else you want to say during the ceremony must be discussed with the registrar beforehand.

You've probably guessed by now that, if you are having a civil ceremony, you have to be married by the registrar assigned to you.  There isn't an option whereby a friend, no matter how official, can serve as your officiant if you want a legal civil ceremony in England.  In addition to that, you can only have a civil service in a register office or indoors at an approved venue, which doesn't include any building that has ever had a religious affiliation.  (I would have loved to get married in an old decommissioned church, but alas!)  Based on when and where we're getting married, Jon and I will be paying about £500 for the privilege of a civil ceremony on top of the venue fees.

The whole thing does feel a bit limiting and can be quite frustrating at times.  Jon and I have found some readings that we love that don't come from a specific faith but that contain spiritual themes, and we're pretty confident that it's not even worth mentioning them to the registrar - though we might try anyway!  But every time I get discouraged, I remember what's important: we love each other and we'll soon be legally recognized as married.  Not everyone is so lucky right now, but I hope that one day we all will have that opportunity.


*I couldn't find the source of this image; if you know, please do tell me so I can credit it properly!  Even though I am being quite militant about cleaning up my pins and posts, this simply had to be shared. (Update: thank you to Kate for passing this along!)

28 comments:

  1. I had no idea the UK was so regulated when it comes to civil ceremonies. In Gabon (with procedures taken from France) it's quite similar although everyone must do the civil ceremony for it to be legal and that ceremony takes place in a particular hall (city hall) and by a particular person. You don't get any choice in the ceremony as it's all just the legal aspects of the marriage. You can choose to follow up with a religious ceremony if that is important to you but it bears no legal ground. In Canada, you can choose between civil and religious, both are legal as long as performed by someone registered with Vital Stats Canada. You can choose your officiant and the ceremony can be held anywhere. As far as I know, there are no regulations as to what you can include in your ceremony as long as the declaration of marriage is had.

    In Gabon, we basically turned up at city hall on the day & time we were given. We had no control over anything. In Canada, we had a civil marriage (although not legal as we were technically already married,) we chose an officiant who met with us in advance and decided on the details of the ceremony and she performed it at our chosen location.

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  2. That's pretty interesting! So if you wanted a religious ceremony, could you legally get married via your registrar, but then have more of a symbolic ceremony in a church? Or is that sort of thing unheard of in England?

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  3. This was fascinating Betsy, especially to hear from an American's perspective. I do have to say that Scotland has different rules to England which are less restrictive, hence the old tradition of young English couples hopping over the border to wed without their parents' blessing!

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  4. This is one of the reasons we didn't get married in the UK, it just seemed easier to do what we wanted in the US. But your wedding will be lovely anyway you do it!

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  5. ah no sorry I was totally unclear! Religious ceremonies are legal as long as they're part of an established religion - I don't know all the details, but you can definitely have a legal Catholic or Protestant or Jewish ceremony without involving a registrar. But, to my understanding, if you want to do something a little more free-spirited - like be married on a hillside by a friend, no matter how spiritual a ceremony it is - you also have to do the registrar thing in order to make the marriage legal. Does that make sense?

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  6. I can totally picture that - too funny! you Scottish pushovers :)

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  7. it would definitely be easier in the US and we'd definitely feel like we had more options. on the bright side, though, our wedding ceremony will be about 7 minutes long - more time to celebrate!

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  8. Thanks for the clarification!

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  9. (I can't remember if you've discussed this before) what made you decide to do a civil ceremony instead of a religious ceremony? your different faiths?

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  10. I don't think I have :) I would have loved to do a CoE ceremony because I am a Jewpiscopalian but I'd want to not invite Jesus and the Church frowns on that sort of thing - can't imagine why, haha! and even if Jon were comfortable with a Jewish ceremony, which he isn't 100%, I'm not really a part of any synagogue in England so it wouldn't have felt like a community thing. In a way, having a civil ceremony IS easier because it takes away some of the complicated decisions, to be honest!

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  11. This sounds just like the perfect thing for me! Maybe we should get married in England! :-P I'm not religious at all so having religion connected to marriage is weird to me. We're probably getting married in a courthouse which I guess would sort of be the same thing as having a registrar marry you. However, I almost feel as though that sort of thing is socially unacceptable in the US. People freak out that I don't want to have a big church wedding and that I haven't been planning my wedding since I was a little girl and that kind of crap. My best friends still make comments about bridesmaid dresses that look cute and I'm like, ummmmm, for the bridesmaids I won't be having???? hahahah

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  12. I know your post is so much more than the photos you included, but I'm just really happy to see those images on a blog!

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  13. All those restrictions are a bit of a bummer, it's the swing of the pendulum, the church has rules, registrar has rules. I hope you guys find something that works for you, I'm sure you will. :) You could always take the passages or quotes that might have religious connotation and just re-write them yourself with the same message?

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  14. that's true! I think my imagination was spoiled by all the options (for straight people) in the US - but, actually, it is exciting to have fewer choices because it challenges us to think outside the box :)

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  15. I had no clue it was so black and white over there. It wouldn't have messed with our wedding too much. Our readings were both secular and I'm guessing the Irish wedding blessing is allowed? Yes? No? But we had talk of God in our ceremony, nonetheless. I loved our readings, now that I think about it. A passage from Captain Mandolin and "Love" by Roy Croft. Solid, good secular readings!

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  16. It is wild to me to think back about how much our idea of our wedding changed with the drama the occurred around it..and this isnt my blog and i can say it here..thanks unfortunately to stephen's CRAZY horrible family. I SAID IT. that felt good. anyway. We had a beautiful church wedding planned...neither of us are particularly religious (i am a christian, and stephen is...undecided) but he grew up in the protestant church, and wanted to be married in his hometown church where his late and beloved granny sang in the choir. Being a sucker for the old beautiful british churches..i was totally down and he was pretty adamant about NOT wanting a civil ceremony (which is funny now). We went from a ceremony PACKED with religion (45 minutes long, three hymns, two biblical reading, prayers, religious vows, a minister, a string quartet etc etc) to a civil ceremony (5 minutes long, a female registrar/i say female because obviously there arnt many, if any, female leaders in the churches out here, classical music playing in the background, no hymns, no prayers, no religious vows etc. ) What WAS important to us, just didn't matter anymore. What mattered was that we were standing firm together in our union, against SO many damn obstacles (and by obstacles I mean people), and it was the most beautiful moment in the world. Yours will be too. But it is so fascinating how different it is out here with how they do marriages (we had to go through an approval process when we were doing the church thing AND when we decided to elope).

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  17. I also am happy to see those images on here. I am a huge supporter.

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  18. can i jump in here and add that its actually quite difficult to have a church ceremony in the UK. Usually one of you has to be a member of the church, and attend regularly, or having regular meetings with the minister (this is for most of the denominations) and both be believers in christ. If one or more of these things are missing they can deny you.

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  19. i am going to jump in again. I AM TAKING OVER YOUR BLOG BETSY. jk. If you cant find a church that will marry you (which yes, the church ceremony is legal) then you can get married by the registrar and have a BLESSING inside a church. Most churches will do this. It is a quick little prayer that the minister does over the couple.

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  20. interesting to know! Thanks Megan :)

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  21. Just skip up to Gretna Green, it's almost the Vegas of the UK in terms of weddings ;)

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  22. I don't know about the Irish wedding blessing, but I doubt it! It does depend on the registrar you get, but they are pretty strict... eeek :/

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  23. Love the first image... I shared that on facebook when I first saw it, years ago, and I still love it now.

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  24. me too - though it makes me sad that it still needs to be enunciated, you know?

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  25. I just love that first image! I remember seeing it floating around a while back, and it never gets old. :) This whole civil/religious division in the UK still boggles my mind a bit, but it sure is interesting to read about! I'm glad you guys are finding a way to make it work for you.

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  26. Wow, that's so interesting! I can't even fathom having to get all of that stuff approved for a wedding. You know how I feel about the marriage equality debate and I absolutely love that you included that last picture. :)

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