Are you married? If you opted to have a civil ceremony instead of a religious one for your big day, you’re not alone.

According to stats released in 2020 by the Office for National Statistics, less than a quarter (22 per cent) of all marriages in 2017 were religious ceremonies. This was the lowest percentage of religious nuptials on record.

‘The popularity of religious ceremonies … fell to historic lows for the second year running, with fewer than one in four couples choosing to get married through a religious ceremony’

— Kanak Ghosh, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics.

With 2017 figures for religious ceremonies dropping below levels for the preceding year, it’s clear that more couples are moving away from traditional weddings. So, why is this? What might be causing this receding interest in religious services?

What is a religious ceremony?

For those yet to marry, the decision between having a religious or civil ceremony can be significant. In order to be able to make a decision, it’s worth understanding what a religious wedding involves.

The main point of a religious wedding is that God is your witness. Therefore, it takes place in a religious venue such as a church or synagogue and is led by the priest, rabbi, or another religious leader.

For it to be legally binding in England and Wales, it will be Anglican, Jewish, or Quaker. Other religions must include a civil ceremony as well as the religious part.

To qualify for a religious ceremony, there are often certain things that the couple must do or be. For instance, if you are planning a Catholic service, you both must be baptised as Christian and at least one of you needs to be Catholic. The expectations vary between faiths, so it’s important that you understand what is expected of you before you start planning your religious ceremony.

What is a civil ceremony?  

A civil service has similarities with a religious one in that witnesses are needed,  vows are said, rings are exchanged, and there is one person who leads the ceremony. However, in a civil ceremony, the service is overseen by a legal representative rather than a religious leader and, whereas God is present throughout religious services, this is not the case with civil ones.

Typically, this type of wedding takes place in a registry office, town hall, or other approved venue. Therefore, it doesn’t involve entering a religious building at all.

Why do some people choose to have a civil ceremony?

So, why are people choosing civil over religious weddings? This is a very personal choice for a couple, but there are a few reasons why more people may be opting for a civil service.

First, religious ceremonies must be in a designated building — usually in the local church or in the chapel that the family has attended for a long time. Civil weddings, on the other hand, can often be held against stunning backdrops, such as mountains or on the beach.

Another reason could be that civil weddings are less regimented. They can be as relaxed as the couple wants them to be and there are no set hymns or readings that must be read.

Additionally, there is likely to be more availability for a civil ceremony than a religious one, meaning that you’re more likely to get the date and time that suits you. With restrictions on wedding sizes changing, you might want to see if there is any availability for when you are planning on getting married.

Which type of service is for you? Will you go with tradition or are you following the ONS stats?