Non-Religious Wedding Ceremony

outdoor weddingThe majority of couples still opt for the traditional religious ceremony, conducted in a church surrounded by all the religious beliefs. However, gone are the days when all weddings were solemnly conducted in religious surroundings and required the blessing of their God.

More and more couples are choosing new and innovative ways to conduct their wedding ceremonies such as holding them in different venues, conducted by different people other than religious figures and choosing to have a ceremony that represents their beliefs and is totally personal to them, i.e. a 'non-religious wedding'.

There are three different types of non-religious wedding ceremonies

  • Non-religious and without rituals
  • With rituals but no religious elements
  • Religious in feel, but not in practice

Non-Religious and Without Rituals

Essentially a civil ceremony performed by a judge, justice of the peace or superintendent registrar. The ceremony can be conducted in a register office or premises that have been approved and authorised by the local authority, for example stately homes, castles and hotels. The civil ceremony tends to be quick, simple and rather impersonal.

With Rituals but no Religious Elements

These ceremonies include rituals but not the religious elements, and are often called humanist weddings. Humanists do not believe in God, but simply in the 'good within human beings, in their equality, and in the individual' right to freedom of choice in the main decisions of life. A humanist wedding does not include any aspects of religion but allows expression of individual personalities.

Instead of religious vows the couple write and exchange their own written vows which focus on their love, relationship and promises to each other, rather than focusing on faith, religion or God. The couple will usually still exchange rings along with other rituals such as selected readings or the lighting of a unity candle. The humanist wedding can feel very similar to a religious ceremony, the prominent difference being that the humanist wedding is not held in a church (although there are more and more humanist venues nowadays, such as Hall's or stately homes that have their own private chapel or church, non-specific to one faith) nor is God mentioned.

Religious in Feel but not in Practice

This type of ceremony may feel religious but does not include actual religious practices. For example the ceremony could take place in a church but the service will not include religious components. Practices such as readings and songs are included however they are secular rather than religious in nature. This is a non-religious wedding despite having a religious feel.

Register Office Wedding

The essential difference between a church wedding and a register office wedding is that the latter has no religious significance. The ceremony is usually held in a room within a civic building and lasts between ten and twenty minutes. It is considered the cheapest and fastest way to get married. The wedding can be often personalised with music, poetry and flowers but any amendments to the standard ceremony are at the discretion of the registrar and must be discussed and agreed beforehand.

The registrar's personal opinion and time constraints can often restrict any attempts to personalise the service. A registry office wedding can sometimes feel austere and uninspiring as it does not allow for individual beliefs and values. The register office used to be the only option available for divorcees, persons of different faith, people with no religious beliefs or those simply wanting a quick ceremony with minimal fuss. However the 1994 Marriage Act now allows civil ceremonies to take place at licensed venues, creating a variety of choice for those who do not wish to opt for the church or register office option.

This choice has caused a rapid decline in the popularity of the register office as a venue for wedding ceremonies.

Humanist Weddings - Legal Status

Be advised that in England and Wales, Humanist weddings do not hold any legal status. If you wish to have a humanist wedding with legal status you will first need to have a civil wedding at a register office, or have a registrar present at the humanist ceremony, to ensure the marriage is legal. The cheaper and quicker option is to have a quick register office wedding first as a formality (this does not need to be done on the same day as the humanist wedding but will need to take place beforehand) and then have the humanist wedding after.

There are two exceptions to this rule in England and Wales, both of which involve holding the ceremony in a religious building:

  • The ceremony could take place within a Unitarian church, either with the minister conducting a non-religious ceremony or simply registering the marriage after allowing a humanist to conduct the ceremony
  • The second option is rare and only available to couples who have strong links with a University - here you would need to find a a chaplain whoi is prepared to conduct a non-religious ceremony

Things are different in Scotland however, making it only one of three countries in the world has celebrants in The Humanist Society of Scotland, who are authorised to conduct marriages which hold full legal status. Since the first UK humanist ceremony in 2005, demand has grown from just over 40 ceremonies in that year to nearly 500 conducted by The Humanist Society of Scotland 2006, making it, at that time, the fifth most popular wedding provider in Scotland.

More and more couples are choosing to have non-religious ceremonies, opting to have something that is special and personalised to them. They have more freedom of choice on how they want their special day to be, instead of abiding to religious conventions of marriage. It is a statement that the couple are starting their new life together, creating their own rules, setting their own expectations for each other and agreeing that their love can be as unique and individual as they are.