Who can celebrate a secular ceremony?

Couples considering marrying today hear about secular ceremony as a new possibility to add to the civil ceremony, or religious ceremony. This is a relatively new concept, so, concretely, what are the ins and outs of it? Is a secular ceremony recognized? What does the law say?

In fact, it all depends on what is meant by “Secular Marriage”!

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So, at first, it is worth defining the “secular wedding ceremony”. If we remain simple and basic, we can give this definition:

Secular Ceremony = Wedding Ceremony that is not a religious wedding ceremony (!)

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To go further, the term may refer to:

  • the “civil ceremony”, which takes place in a town hall, which is secular and conducted by a civil registry officer.
  • or the “secular ceremony” known as “engagement ceremony”, “American-style ceremony” or “symbolic ceremony”, which has no specific place of conduct or a determined officiant.

For the latter case, which is the very purpose of this site, the definition could be as follows:

Secular ceremony = symbolic wedding ceremony, complementary to the civil ceremony, with totally customizable content.

Civil ceremony, the only recognized form of marriage

In France, religious marriage was the only form of marriage recognized until 1787, the date of the edict of Versailles. The unbaptized people then had to convert to Catholicism. From that date, Louis XVI allowed non-Catholics to unite! Since then, and in particular the official separation of Church and State in 1905, the Republican tradition of secularism has been required: only the ceremony civil marriage is recognized. The religious ceremony of marriage is not prohibited, but, according to the law, it must intervene after the civil marriage.

The civil ceremony remains very framed and limited to 3 times:

  • The reading of the articles of the Civil Code (arts. 212, 213, 371-1, 214 and 215)
  • Engagement of the spouses
  • Signing of the Civil Status Act

The civil registrar may occasionally accept “animations” or make a personalized speech, but is not required to do so. The ceremony at the town hall is usually short and uncustomizable, especially in large cities where weddings follow on summer Saturdays!

But… It is the only and only form of marriage recognized by the state, in France and abroad, that will allow you to benefit from the benefits related to this status (tax benefits, survivor’s pension, transfer priorities, succession, etc.), beyond even social status.

The “secular ceremony” has a symbolic and romantic scope

The so-called “secular” ceremony cannot therefore replace the civil ceremony, it complements it on the symbolic and emotional planes . It is the ceremony that guarantees couples to live a moving ceremony, personal, in their image. It gives a pleasant setting, in which the newlyweds feel good.

The secular ceremony is based on the personal beliefs of the newlyweds. It is currently not provided for in the law, unlike religious ceremonies, the celebration of which can only be carried out after the civil ceremony (art. 433-21 of the Criminal Code: six months imprisonment and a fine of 7,500 euros for any minister of a worship who usually performs religious ceremonies of marriage without him or her was justified the marriage certificate previously received by civil registration officers).

This does not mean that there can be no religious traditions or connotations. While the secular ceremony does not require adherence to religious beliefs or their rules, the conduct of certain secular ceremonies can be based on rituals or religious texts! Hence the contradiction with the “secular” terminology, which is not necessarily appropriate! We may prefer “Engagement Ceremony” or “Symbolic Ceremony”.

A typical French ceremony!

Contrary to the idea received, usually disclosed by improperly informed journalists or bloggers, the secular ceremony does not come from the United States! And no! In the USA, there is no civil ceremony, then a religious ceremony (or not). There’s only one wedding ceremony, official.

Actually, the bride and groom recover their marriage license from the court or the civil registry office. This license allows them to marry religiously or civilly. The officer is approved, and the place of the ceremony is free! That’s why American movies and series show pretty weddings in beautiful places, usually outdoors.

But these are “real marriages”, that is, official ceremonies!

The secular ceremony as practiced in France, non-religious, symbolic and unofficial, in addition to the civil ceremony, is unique…

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