In days gone by, religious marriage ceremonies and big old church weddings were the norm. Today, however, more and more couples are opting to marry in a civil ceremony.
It’s an incredibly personal choice and the reasons for picking one over the other vary from couple to couple. However, though either option will see you legally wed by the end of it, they are very different choices and, before settling on one, there are several things you should first consider.
Religious v Civil
The main difference between marrying in a religious or civil ceremony is that a religious ceremony is about being wed in the eyes of God (or whichever deity you believe in), while a civil ceremony is about being wed in the eyes of the law.
Of course, your celebrant, be they civil or religious, must meet all the legal requirements for marrying a couple as set out by the federal government, but if you’re marrying in a church or another place of worship, there are likely a number of rules or conventions (such as either the bride or groom being a member of the faith in question) that must be adhered to, whereas civil ceremonies have fewer restrictions.
Naturally, this is understandable, since it shouldn’t be forgotten that, as beautiful and atmospheric as many churches etc are, the fact is, they are, first and foremost, places of worship. So, the actually marriage ceremony is seen as a sacred, holy ceremony, to which the faith’s customs must apply.
Civil ceremonies, on the other hand, can be just as wonderful and atmospheric but they are not constrained by the rules of any faith, just the law, so there is a lot more scope to move outside rules pertaining to, for example, music or dress.
As mentioned above, places of worship are about more than just pretty surroundings and stained glass windows. They are, generally, consecrated and a place where people of that faith congregate to practice their beliefs. As such, few churches, synagogues or mosques etc will allow those who do not share their faith to wed in their house of worship. So, if you have your heart set on marrying in your local cathedral, but are not of that faith, well, the chances of you being allowed to marry there are, well, slim to none.
Similarly, individual houses of worship sometimes have their own rules, as do individual faiths, about who can marry within their walls.
There are no such restrictions with civil ceremonies, so as long as your officiant conforms to the legalities of getting married, most venues – from a garden, the beach or, even, your own back yard – will suffice.
And, if none of them suit, you can always wed at your local marriage registry.
The only thing to remember is that if you are marrying in a public space such as a beach or garden, you may need to first obtain a permit from the local council.
Freedom of choice
Though many religious ceremonies are a little more relaxed today than in the past, they are still religious services by their very nature, so though some faiths allow a little flexibility in the format of the wedding ceremony (ie. style of music or the slight editing of your vows), you will have to stick to a fairly standard format if your wedding is to be a church affair, so expect things like hymns, a pastoral speech and largely religious vows.
Civil ceremonies, on the other hand, are conducted in accordance solely with the laws of your jurisdiction, so as long as they are adhered to, you can pretty much tailor the ceremony to exactly what the couple wants.
As such, you have much more choice in the order of proceedings, the tone of the music and even the choice of dress. We’re not convi
nced too many houses of worship would allow a sci-fi based wedding, nor the inclusion of, say, ancient wedding rituals such as hand-fasting.
However, civil ceremonies are flexible enough that you can combine religious elements. Your civil celebrant won’t be able to, for example, give the seven traditional blessings endowed during a Jewish wedding, but you could include hymns or a prayer or Bible reading if you so wish.
There is no set length for a wedding ceremony but we’ve heard of civil ceremonies where nothing more than the mandatory legal wording is used and, as such, the ceremony lasted no more than four minutes.
So, your ceremony can be as long or as short as you wish.
In the case of a civil ceremony, as long as the legal requirements for the ceremony are fulfilled, there is no time limit. In the case of a religious ceremony, there is generally an order of service, so though we’ve attended religious ceremonies that have taken about half an hour, most seem to be around the one-hour mark but, like a civil ceremony, that varies and depends on the traditions of the religion you’re marring under and, of course, the couple’s requirements as far as readings, songs of worship and the order of proceedings goes.
There is no set cost for performing a wedding in Australia so, in theory, it could cost anywhere between, well, nothing and $500-$800, which is what most civil celebrants charge.
Registry offices charge between about $250 and $350 to perform a standard wedding ceremony, but that can vary slightly depending on the day (weekends are more expensive) and the number of guests you are inviting (and therefore the size of the room being hired for the ceremony).
Houses of worship generally have set fees but they vary markedly, from a few hundred dollars to around the $1500 for, say, a wedding in a cathedral. Others will ask for an unspecified donation that will be put towards the running costs of the parish.
Also, don’t forget that though a registry office may not hold the same romance as a church setting, there will usually be less to worry about in terms of floral arrangements, seating, music and Order of Service books.
Clothing is an important consideration when choosing between a religious or civil ceremony despite the fact that weddings are no longer affairs that require guests (or even the bride and groom) to dress formally, certainly not in Australia.
While civil ceremonies can be lavish affairs, they generally lend themselves to a less formal atmosphere than a place of worship and, as such, pretty much anything goes. In fact, several of Easy Weddings’ civil celebrants have reported everyone, including the couple, turning up dressed as fairytale characters, in shorts and a t-shirt, even naked in one instance. One celebrant says he was asked to dress up to match a couple’s sci-fi themed nuptials.
Places of worship, generally, have a basic dress code that pertains to modesty and respect. That’s not to say you have to be covered from head to toe, but a groom dressed as Darth Vader or a bride with a little too much cleavage showing, probably wouldn’t go down too well in a house of worship.
Whatever your choice, the important thing is to choose a ceremony that best suits you as a couple! It is, after all, one of the most special ceremonies you’ll partake in during your entire lifetime, so you should at least enjoy it!