In recent years the rise of wedding blogs and the sharing of wedding photographs on the internet has led to huge changes in the way we look at weddings. Where once the path was simple – a traditional church wedding, probably followed by a reception at a large hotel, now couples want to really put their stamp on every element of their wedding day, from the type of reception they want to hold to the running of the ceremony itself.
When it comes to the legalities however the UK is far from the forefront of adapting to these changes. The rules remain strict and fairly frigid – you can only be married under a fixed roof, most of the wording must remain the same and it’s largely up to the individual registrar/celebrant how your ceremony is run, and it’s not always done so to the taste of the couple themselves.
The problem is amplified by the fact that, particularly in the case of civil ceremonies a registrar is often simply assigned to your wedding on the day. You may never have met them before, never discussed any element of the day with them nor have any idea (save for the mandatory legal vows) what they are going to say during the ceremony. Worse still they hold a great deal of power and may on the spot refuse to allow things you’ve put months of planning into. If time is running tight and they are needed elsewhere then they may cut parts of the ceremony, they may decide to ban photographers or videographers from recording and because they don’t know you it’s very easy for them to accidentally get names wrong or forget about a request you had made. This is not meant as an attack on registrars – indeed most are extremely accommodating and do an absolutely fantastic job, but with all these potential issues combined it’s leading more and more couples to abandon the legal part of their wedding day altogether and choose to have the type of ceremony they want, legally binding or not.
It’s now become extremely commonplace to pop down to the registry office the day before the wedding and complete the legalities there and then with varying degrees of pomp and circumstance. As long as the basic legalities are fulfilled it doesn’t really matter how grand the registry office ceremony is – you can head down there in jeans and a t-shirt, say a few words and simply sign some papers if you wish. There’s no obligation to exchange rings, have readings or even say very much and whilst most choose to mark the occasion to some extent, keeping the legal proceedings very basic keeps them separate from that feeling of actually getting married on your wedding day.
This leaves you free to have literally whatever kind of wedding you want, free from the shackles of legal wedding requirements and what’s been done before. As a result the humanist ceremony has seen a massive rise in popularity, with couples selecting a friend or relative to conduct the ceremony, perhaps getting married outside in the sunshine, and speaking words that perhaps mean little legally in legal terms but mean so much more in terms of the emotional depth of the promises made on such a personal level. After all weddings are supposed to be an emotional choice, not a practical one, and what really means more to you on an emotional level – repeating a legal mantra or making a heartfelt vow in your own words and in your own voice?
For those whose wedding is not influenced by any religious beliefs getting the legalities “out of the way” beforehand is changing from a choice made only out of necessity when getting married abroad to simply another decision made on personal preference – does the wedding you want to have fall within the limitations outside factors place on you? If your plans follow a reasonably orthodox structure then perhaps getting legally married on the day gives it more impact and there’s no reason not to do so. But if your dream wedding goes beyond what the rules will allow you to do then I say don’t let that stand in your way. It’s your wedding day, no-one else’s and on that one special day you get to set the rules for a change. Don’t let legalities define your wedding day, a marriage isn’t about legal status, it’s about expressing the way you feel about each other and about a solemn promise between two people; a promise that only truly binds you from the moment you both give your heart and soul to it, not the moment you sign a contract.