Civil Ceremony Weddings
Information here is mainly aimed at those in England & Wales as marriage laws in Scotland and Northern Ireland are slightly different.
Pre-Marriage Interview (either together or separately)
Welcome & Introduction
These are optional:
Music (12-15 songs: background, entrance, register signing, leaving)
Exchanging of Rings
The ceremony involves yourselves, two witnesses, your guests and the Superintendent Registrar of the district plus a Registrar appointed to register marriage in that district
A civil marriage ceremony can take place at a district register office or your choice of venue if it's an approved premises
Superintendent registrars are asked to address the following words to the parties immediately before the declaratory words are spoken:
"The place in which you are now met has been duly sanctioned according to the law for the celebration of marriages"
"Before you are joined in matrimony I have to remind you of the solemn and binding character of the vows you are about to make"
"Marriage in this country means the union of two people, voluntarily entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others".
Declaratory & Contracting Words
Speaking these words and completing the register is almost the most important parts of the ceremony.
During the ceremony itself the Superintendent Registrar will ask you to repeat after them.
Choose ONE of these options:
D1: "I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, AB, may not be joined in matrimony to CD."
D2: "I declare that I know of no legal reason why I, AB, may not be joined in marriage to CD."
D3: By replying "I am" to the question "Are you AB free lawfully to marry CD?"
Choose ONE of these options:
C1: "I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, AB, do take thee, CD, to be my lawful wedded wife (or husband)."
C2: "I AB take you CD to be my wedded wife (or husband)"
C3: "I AB take thee CD to be my wedded wife (or husband)"
This is a simple but important chat in private before the ceremony to confirm that the ceremony can legally take place.
It takes about 5-10 minutes per person and you can be seen together or separately.
If the plan is for a separate entrance(s) for the actual ceremony then one of you goes first about 20 minutes before the ceremony start time. Your guests will often be seated waiting at this point with background music playing.
During the interview they check the paperwork issued after you have given notice and the 28 days waiting period has passed. Your register office may have given it to you personally or direct to the Superintendent Registrar/Registrar involved with your ceremony.
They should also confirm the details and exact words to be written in their marriage register and your marriage certificate:
- Name and surname
- Condition (e.g. Single, Widower, Widow, Previous marriage dissolved ...)
- Place of Residence
- Father's name, surname and occupation (this is optional - they either write it in or they draw a blank line through)
Your name and signature on the marriage records will always be your pre-married name. It's your choice if or when after the ceremony you choose to be known by a different name.
This is the official guidance written by the General Register Office
(a) Civil marriage ceremonies must not be religious in nature: whilst any inclusion (reading, music etc) that contains an incidental reference to a god or deity would be acceptable, the reading or piece of music in which such a reference is contained must be essentially non-religious in context. No civil marriage ceremony should include extracts from an authorised religious marriage service or readings from sacred religious texts, hymns or other religious chants, involve any religious rituals or any form of worship. For this purpose any material used by way of introduction to the ceremony or by way of conclusion to it is included in these provisions.
(b) The Registrar General would consider that in this context the inclusion of readings such as the love poem "How Do I Love Thee" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning ("Sonnets from the Portuguese") would be acceptable. Whilst the word "God" appears, it is an essentially non-religious context (a love poem). "Howard’s End" by E M Forster would also fit this category. Popular songs such as "Angels" by Robbie Williams and "I Say A Little Prayer" by Aretha Franklin would be acceptable. There are also some popular pieces of music such as Wagner’s "The Wedding March" from Lohengrin (more popularly referred to as "Here Comes the Bride") which was written for an opera and would be acceptable, as would be Mendelssohn’s "Wedding March".
(c) Our guidance on readings from "The Prophet" by Khalil Gibran (a philosophical / spiritual work but perhaps not specifically a religious one) would be that these would be acceptable depending on the particular reading chosen. We would consider the extract on ‘marriage’ to be acceptable. Similarly, the music for Schubert’s "Ave Maria" was not originally written for the Latin prayer "Hail Mary", and we would consider the music alone to be acceptable.
(d) There are, however, some readings or music which should not be included. These include any readings from "sacred religious texts", so any extract from the Bible or Koran, for example, must not be used. This would therefore prohibit extracts from the "Song of Songs", or St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians ("Love is patient, love is kind. etc). Similarly, wording such as "to have and to hold, in sickness and in health" should not be used since this is taken from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer. Any hymns should also not be included, either the words or the music. Lastly, superintendent registrars should to the best of their knowledge avoid the inclusion of any ritual or symbol which may have any religious connotation. Examples of this may be the inclusion in the ceremony of any physical symbolism such as the presence of a canopy for a later religious ceremony, or any reference to a "hand fasting" ceremony (an ancient pagan ritual). This does not include the exchange of rings, which is a commonly-recognised and acceptable feature of civil as well as religious weddings. However, a religious symbol worn by the couple or guests which is not intended to be explicitly used as a part of the ceremony itself would be acceptable: for example, it would be acceptable for the couple or their guests to wear a crucifix necklace if they wished, or for a clergyman to attend as a guest or witness wearing a religious collar.