The unholy bureaucracy

by Suw on March 25, 2007

It's fairly obvious to anyone with half a wit that organising a wedding is a relatively involved thing. You are, after all, organising an event for some 60 – 100 guests, (or more… or less), and that takes a bit of doing. But one thing no one really needs is complications, yet there are complications galore. And I'm not talking about the wrinkles introduced by marrying one of them thar dratted furriners.
Nope, what's turning out to be a right unholy mess is the fact that we want a mixed atheist/Christian wedding and in the UK, you can either have a religious ceremony in a church, or you can have a non-religious civil ceremony in an approved venue, but by God, never the twain shall meet. Oh no, you can't have a slightly-religious ceremony in a civil venue – that's not allowed. And whilst apparently you can add to your vows, individual registrars get the final say on what is said.
I have to say, I am a little dumbfounded. Kevin and I want a ceremony that really means something to both of us, but the fact that I am strongly atheist does mean that a church wedding would be inappropriate. Yet I want Kevin to have a ceremony that respects his beliefs, so a fully civil ceremony is also inappropriate. We want to meet half-way, but the State seems unlikely to let us – says “Legal civil ceremonies must be non-religious in content, so cannot include hymns, religious readings or prayers.” Does this mean he can't invoke God in his vows?
If the level of control of what can and can't be said in a civil ceremony includes the prohibition of the word 'God', then I find that to be an interference too far. In fact, it's bordering on fascistic, and that's not a term I bandy about lightly. I accept that certain criteria should be set down by law and met by couples marrying to ensure that the marriage is a true legally binding agreement entered into openly and with due solemnity by each party, but this stark prohibition seems to me to be going too far.
Of course, we could have a humanist wedding, or even a ceremony totally of our own devising, but that isn't legally recognised in England and Wales, (it is in Scotland), so we'd have to do the legal bit the day before in a registry office. It's absurd that, in this third millennium, we're not a bit more tolerant and forgiving of different viewpoints, and the fact that sometimes atheists and Christians fall in love and want to do things in a way that respects each other's beliefs.
We're going to have to talk to a proper registrar about what is and isn't possible, but I'm not holding out much hope.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 1:06 am

Get married in the US. There, you can do anything you want.
But doubtless you ahve reasons not to do this.
Try talking to the British Humanist Association – they provide officiants for non-religious versions of such ceremonies. And while their usual goal is to provide a non-religious alternative, they *are* very much geared to providcing what the customer wants, and they are authorized to perform weddings. I bet you can get what you want from one of them.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 6:11 am

Get married multiple times. To the same 'Tother person, of course.
Each of you gets the ceremony you wish, and each of you is also willing to go along with an additional ceremony that doesn't do it for you, but does do it for (pardon the pun) the other.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 7:19 am

Do what the French do. Get married in a registry office. Then all de-camp to a church for a Blessing.
Oh and start with champagne and brioche at 11am and keep going till Soupe a l'oignon gratinee at midnight.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 7:37 am

So you think you've got problems! Try having a civil partnership (I know you can't 'cos he's a bloke …) where the choices are even less .. no religious music limits one's choices you know
Having said that the registrar at Cardiff was as helpful as anyone could be and we wrote almost every word of our own ceremony. Just don't mention God.
Peter D Cox

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 9:00 am

One option is to have the civil ceremony, followed by a blessing; a couple of the places we visited, when trying to choose a venue, were beautiful old houses with gorgeous big old rooms for the ceremony – and little chapels in the next room, or across the garden.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 9:38 am

Suw, I'd suggest a blessing too.
You have the civil ceremony first where the official/legal marriage takes place, which is then followed by a church blessing on the marriage. It's quite common. The two services don't have to happen on the same day. Friends of mine got 'married' twice last year, with a week inbetween each ceremony.
With a blessing, I think you may also find that the vows are a little more flexible than if it were a marriage service, as they don't have to cover the legal side of things.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 9:57 am

Yeah, there are reasons to marry here, and we're kinda committed to this route now. I found the Humanists' website yesterday so will bear that in mind. If they were authorised to carry out legal weddings in the UK then it'd be perfect, but humanist weddings aren, well, weddings in the eyes of the law here. Which is crap. Oh well.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 10:10 am

The civil ceremony/church blessing isn't what I want at all. I want a ceremony that we share, that mixes our philosophies and beliefs together, not to have a ceremony each. If we need to do the paperwork the day before and have a humanist-ish wedding on the day, then we'll do that, but the ceremony has to be shared and meaningful to both of us.

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 10:48 am

We're having a humanist ceremony (which are legally recognised in Norway) and were shocked at how strict they are – NO religious symbolism whatsoever. Every text to be read and piece of music to be performed has to be approved by a central office. Apparently another couple wanted Amazing Grace (just instrumental) and were turned down.
A friend who's a musician said this sounded as bad as the church, which often bans secular music – but that musicians know ways around it. You want Ave Maria, you call it an aria by [composer name], or opus 24 or something like that – I don't remember the details of that piece, but you get the idea, you can describe it correctly but in a way the fascists won't recognise.
That won't help with wedding vows though, or with poetry.
I hope you find a way around this stupid rule!

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 4:05 pm

There is no way around the “no religion” rule if you're going for a civil ceremony. Daft, but there you go.
I went to a wedding recently which seems to offer a possible solution to your conundrum. He was an atheist and she was a catholic. They married in a catholic church, with all the usual trappings etc, but he simply opted out of the God stuff. So, every time there was a vow or something which required him to swear before God etc, the priest varied the words so that he was just asked to “swear”. Or, if it was a particularly religious bit, the priest simply missed it out entirely. The bride carried on as normal.
It was a little bit strange. If the priest had not been such a sweetie, he could have made it all sound like the groom was making an anti-religious statement. But it was all very low key. Some of the congregation might not even have noticed.
I think the groom's main concern was not that he was getting married in a church. He was quite happy to have the union blessed by a priest of the bride's religion, and happy for her to make her vows before her God. He just didn't want to make the biggest commitment in his life in the name of something in which he didn't believe.
The only hiccough came when the priest forgot to miss out the God bit at one point. He asked the groom to repeat something or other, and the groom just stood there and didn't! Again, in less sympathetic hands, it could have been an awkward moment. But it was fine.
So, you just need to find yourself a friendly priest and see if he's prepared to adapt the wedding vows so that only one of you has to mention God.
Good luck!

Anonymous March 26, 2007 at 4:17 pm

I think you've nailed the issue on the head there – my main concern is not making vows in the name of something I don't believe in.
Of course, the church thing isn't possible, as I mentioned, not only because we're not a resident of any of the local parishes but also because for my entire life I've wanted to not get married in a church. It's just not me. So we have to figure something else out.

Anonymous March 27, 2007 at 3:09 am

I believe the British humanists are more accommodating than that. In the US if the humanist were that strict you'd go to the Unitarians, who will do *anything* anyone wants.

Anonymous March 28, 2007 at 9:52 am

I totally understand what you mean, as having a civil ceremony means we can't even play 'God only knows' by the Beach Boys at our wedding. Makes things so prescriptive. It's a shame that humanist ceremonies aren't legal in the UK, as they are in Scotland. Maybe it's just a matter of time.
Just flicking back to your post about searching for a dress, did you know that some Oxfam shops have bridal departments for donated wedding dresses? More info here:

Anonymous March 29, 2007 at 9:38 am

What a dilemma! I'm an agnostic and I thought it would be hypocritical to marry in a church so we went to the register office but I didn't realise you could have such difficulties. Conjures up bizarre picture of Kevin in church and you in the register office marrying by video link! (Or Twitter, if updating fast enough!)
good luck, I'm sure you'll find a solution

Anonymous March 30, 2007 at 1:36 pm

Is getting married in Scotland not an issue?
I didn't realise it was all so prescriptive (on both civil weddings and civil partnerships. That sucks.
Whilst I'm pretty reluctant to do the actual wedding bit, if Jen does persuade me, we're likely to have similar issues — I'm Catholic, she's Pagan — though two ceremonies would prolly be ok. And, tbh, I'd prolly be ok with just doing a Pagan handfasting, with the right officiator — the intention is the same, after all.
But that really does suck. I'm sure you'll keep us all updated on progress on this one…

Anonymous April 4, 2007 at 5:36 pm

Suw, has Joey or have I ever told you about the technicalities of our being wed? Remind me to do that. It won't help except maybe with a laugh. 😉

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