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The Beauty and Significance of Civil Marriage

Edmund Leighton, The Wedding Register. Civil marriage is more than just a legal union. It is a celebration of love, commitment, and the coming together of two souls. In this article, we will explore the...

Edmund Leighton, The Wedding Register.

Civil marriage is more than just a legal union. It is a celebration of love, commitment, and the coming together of two souls. In this article, we will explore the history, cultural significance, and current state of civil marriage worldwide.

A Journey Through History

Throughout history, marriage has been governed by various laws and customs. In medieval Europe, for example, canon law recognized marriages where the parties declared their commitment to each other, regardless of witnesses or official ceremonies. However, the Marriage Act of 1753 in England changed this, making official ceremonies in recognized religious settings a requirement for a valid and registered marriage.

A couple waiting to get married in the town of Alghero, Italy

Similar developments occurred in other European countries. The Council of Trent in 1566 mandated religious ceremonies for Catholics, while the Protestant theologian John Calvin introduced the concept of state registration alongside church ceremonies. The French Revolution in 1792 elevated civil marriage above religious ceremonies, a practice that spread across Europe under Napoleon. Nowadays, in countries like France and Germany, civil marriages are the only ones with legal validity.

Civil Marriage Around the World

Let's take a brief tour of civil marriage practices in different parts of the world.

England and Wales: A Harmonious Blend

In England and Wales, civil marriages must take place in authorized premises, such as register offices or approved religious settings. A non-religious ceremony follows the approval process, wherein the registrar, the couple, and two witnesses participate. It is important to note that references to religious elements are strictly prohibited during these ceremonies.

United States: The Patchwork of State Laws

Marriage regulations in the United States primarily fall under state jurisdiction. While all states require marriage licenses, the type of ceremony (religious or civil) does not affect the marriage's legal validity. In Pennsylvania, for instance, self-uniting marriages reflect the state's Quaker heritage, allowing couples to marry without an official minister.

Mandatory Civil Marriage in Europe and Latin America

In numerous European and Latin American countries, civil marriage ceremonies are mandatory. These countries recognize religious ceremonies as secondary to civil marriages. Belgium, the Netherlands, and Turkey often see couples opting for civil ceremonies without any religious component. Full weddings are usually conducted in special ceremonial rooms in town halls, complete with wedding gowns and the presence of family and friends.

Countries without Civil Marriage

On the other hand, several countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Southeast Asia do not practice civil marriage. Instead, religious authorities conduct all marriages, which are later registered by civil authorities. In some of these countries, like Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, marriages are usually limited to individuals within the same religious community.

Embracing Same-Sex Marriages

Fortunately, many jurisdictions around the world have recognized the importance of equal rights and the beauty of love transcending gender. As of October 2022, same-sex marriages are permitted in countries such as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States, among others. In addition, civil unions, domestic partnerships, and registered partnerships offer similar rights to same-sex couples in certain jurisdictions.

The Everlasting Commitment

Civil marriage is not just a legal contract; it is a celebration of love and commitment. Whether it's a small intimate ceremony or a grand affair, the significance of civil marriage remains unrivaled. As societies continue to evolve, it is heartening to see the recognition and acceptance of diverse forms of love and partnerships.


  • Van Eijk, Esther (2016). Family Law in Syria: Patriarchy, Pluralism and Personal Status Laws. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781786730190.

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