OK, I admit that the title is an attention-getter but there is some truth in it. I’m referring to celebrant led wedding ceremonies which in England have no legal merit. Things are different in Scotland; there a couple can have a humanist style wedding in any format they want and get an official marriage certificate at the end. Not so in England
So, if Celebrant led ceremonies aren’t legally viable in England (and that includes Surrey!), why are they so popular?
First, a few facts
There are almost four hundred thousand weddings every year in the UK. The Covid pandemic caused some havoc and delays but didn’t dampen the desire to get married.
In my conversations with couples, I talk about three components to a typical wedding event. I refer to them as ‘the legalities’, ‘the ceremony’ and the ‘celebration’. You must do the legal bit but the other two can be done at different times – or perhaps even not at all.
To be legally married in England, you must attend a licenced location and sign the wedding register in the presence of a licenced registrar and two witnesses. There are administrative requirements about giving notice, confirming your ‘resident status’, declaring that you are free to marry and that you want to do so. Once you’ve done those and signed the register, you will be legally married. Bob’s your uncle, as the saying goes (or possibly he’s now your husband).
Most people want a ‘ceremony’ with family and friends (which could be religious or non-religious) where the couple say words of commitment, make promises and give wedding rings; a ceremonial ritual with glamour.
My third element is the ‘reception’ (‘celebration) where the couple and their guests, enjoy food, drink and festivities. People make speeches, propose ‘toasts’ and generally have fun.
Only the LEGAL bit is necessary, other two are OPTIONS
Registry offices and churches usually want to combine the legal and ceremonial elements, but you don’t have to do so. The nature of these institutions means that there are limitations and restrictions on timing, location and what can and cannot be included.
A wedding celebrant can perform a non-legal ceremony anytime and anywhere, in a garden, on a beach, on a boat. You can even book a lap of the London Eye for such a ceremony.
But, in England, a celebrant led ceremony isn’t enough on its own to legally marry you. A couple must have done the registry office bit.
So if a celebrant led ceremony won’t legally marry two people (yet) in England, why do so many couples want to do it? Here are four reasons from my experience:
- Recent restrictions forced them to have a small registry office ceremony and they want a bigger and better one with family and friends
- They want something very personal with style and content that registry office and Church restrictions don’t allow
- They want freedom of choice as to where they have their ceremony
- One partner is from another country and, having completed a ceremony there, they want another one for the folks ‘at home’
Whilst the title of this article is truthful, the freedom and scope of a celebrant ceremony makes it an increasing popular addition to the basic legal step of registering a marriage.
To find a celebrant in your area visit the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants at https://professionalcelebrants.org.uk