Civil vs Religious Ceremonies – What’s the Difference?

Confused about a religious or civil marriage ceremony?

It’s a sad but true cliché for some couples planning their wedding ceremony… The MOB and/or MOG (Mother of the Bride/Groom) want the wedding to be done “their” way.

Sometimes it’s a wonderful thing to have a willing delegate, but when  personal views begin to override the wishes of the couple, things can get tough. One such prickly issue is the mother who wants a religious ceremony for her son or daughter…

For example, I recently received this request for advice from one bride, whose mother wants her to have a “religious” ceremony…

My mum has expressed her wishes for us to be married by a Pastor; as a Christian it is something that’s important to her. Do you know the difference (if any) between a ceremony performed by a celebrant or a pastor? Aside from the prayers and bible references…

We would love to have you perform our ceremony but we also respect my mum’s wishes. Is there some way we could incorporate the two? What would you recommend?

You can choose a wedding ceremony to suit all beliefs…

Dear Bride,

Respecting everyone’s wishes on your wedding day can be awkward. I empathise with you for being caught between this rock and a hard place. I can only tell you what I tell all my couples… and that is, it is YOUR day. You should be married the way YOUR heart guides you. But to be objective, I will also let you know some differences between religious versus civil ceremonies.

Ceremony Venue

I’m not sure what religion a Pastor belongs to, but if it’s anything like the Catholic system you can only be married on consecrated ground – in a Church (or a graveyard!) Civil ceremonies can be conducted wherever your heart desires – all you nees is a permit if it’s a public space (fees range from $0-65), obtainable from the relevant Shire or governing body.

Governing Body

In a religious ceremony you are married under the law of God. In a civil ceremony, you are married under Federal Law. Civil celebrants are required to abide by a strict code of conduct to ensure your nuptials are legal. Religious officiants answer only to their Church leader, and are not answerable to the Australian government.

Religious Content

A religious ceremony can include communion, whereas a civil ceremony usually does not (unless the celebrant is a minister and authorised by a religious institution to do so.) A civil ceremony can contain whatever blessings / prayers / rites you choose… couples in your situation often get their mum / grandma to read the religious bits as a happy compromise – mum gets her religion, the couple get their beach/garden wedding ceremony.

Length of Ceremony

Religious ceremonies may incorporate the rite of communion, a few hymns, and a sermon. As such, the ceremony could easily last an hour (which is why having a “ceremony booklet” is a good idea – it helps stop your guests from fidgeting, LOL).

A civil ceremony can be as long or as short as you want it. In fact, some of the most meaningful ceremonies I’ve done are five minutes long – the couple exchange their vows, and as the vows are the entire point of having ceremony, they don’t distract from it with froth and sugary sentiments.

Tailored Ceremonies

I’ve witnessed several religious ceremonies, (and indeed my first marriage was a Church wedding!) and from experience couples aren’t given the opportunity to tailor their ceremonies. Without exception, “A Letter from St Paul to the Corinthians” is the reading used, possibly because this is practically the only passage that expresses objective sentiments on “love” in the bible! (It should be noted I would like to be proved wrong on that!)

Many civil celebrants on the other hand actively support and encourage their couples to tailor their ceremony to include (or exclude) whatever they like, providing it remains legal. In this age where it’s mostly Generation Y kids that are marrying, “individuality” is key, and a civil ceremony affords each couple to do things their way.

Combining Elements of Both

As for combining the two, I can incorporate religious prayers and bible readings, and will support you in doing so if that’s what you want… Also don’t forget you could have hymns as your processionals too.

Thanks for getting in touch, and for the opportunity to explain the difference :-)

Love, Anita