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The Legalities behind a Celebrant led Wedding

Current Marriage Laws in England and Wales

At the time of writing (July 2019) an Independent Celebrant in England or Wales is unable to perform the legal marriage part of the wedding ceremony.

So in this article I’d like to explain exactly what that means.

Why can’t a Celebrant perform the Legalities?

Marriage Laws in both England and Wales state that there are only two types of legal marriage:

· Religious Marriage performed by a Minister in a Place of Worship

· Civil Marriage performed by a Registrar in the Registry Office or within a licenced premises.

So what exactly is a Celebrant led Wedding, if it’s not a legal marriage?

Note that I use the term WEDDING here! A Celebrant will write and perform your WEDDING ceremony. This is the part where you chose a beautiful venue or location for your WEDDING Day. Invite all your guests and they will hear whatever it is you decide will be the content of your WEDDING Ceremony. You will still exchange vows (which can be unique or still feel traditional – whatever you want), you will still exchange rings - if you wish (there is no legal requirement to exchange rings in a legal marriage).

The only part that is missing from a Celebrant led WEDDING is the legal wording and the signing of the Register.

The legal wording is the bit where you say:

“I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I (insert name) may not be joined in matrimony to (insert name)


“I call upon these persons here present to witness that I (insert name) do take thee (insert name) to be my lawful wedded wife/husband” (traditional since 1837)

Or you may have a slightly simpler variation of the above:

“I (insert name) take you (insert name) to be by wedded wife/husband”

Is there anything else missing from a Celebrant led Wedding?

Yes there is …


That’s right, there’s a whole lot of rules which regulate a legal marriage and this means a Celebrant led Wedding is completely free of these rules.

What rules?

· The obvious one is location. With a Celebrant you will be able to hold your Wedding day anywhere – inside or outside. It will not have to be in a place of worship, nor a licenced venue.

· The wording – For a legal marriage the legal wording must always be spoken. As well as this you will have options for which vows you would like to repeat but this will be limited. Basically everyone will have the same wording options. With a Celebrant your wording is going to be completely unique and the way that fits you.

· Religious Content – for a Civil Marriage (Registrar) the whole ceremony must be strictly secular – completely religion free. This includes readings and your choice of music. So if you still what a hymn, or a prayer read or even include a song with some religious words then you should definitely consider a Celebrant Wedding

· Photos – Often you are restricted from taking photos in a place or worship or by the Registrar during the legal marriage. I don’t know of any Celebrants who have any rules about this.

· Décor – this is very much a grey area!! But recently I have heard reports of Registrars insisting venue décor is removed before a ceremony – it seems to relate to anything that may look like an Arch. A Registrar is not able to marry you under an archway (I believe this has been said to look religious). And I have heard the same of lighting candles – although some venues will also not allow you to light candles due to fire safety.

· Alcohol – A licenced venue will prohibit the sale and consumption of food and drink in the ceremony room 1 hour before the ceremony start. Now, whilst I wouldn’t expect to see a full bar or party atmosphere at a Wedding Ceremony, I have been known to add “a toast” with prosecco, or perform a wine sharing ceremony and I know others have had a “shot” of something as part of their ceremony (just some of the special touches we can add!)

The Legal Bit

So – What exactly do you have to do if you want to have a Celebrant led Wedding but also be legally married?

If you have read this far and have decided that a Celebrant led Wedding is the way forward it is very simple.

I would suggest you find your perfect venue, book your perfect date and appoint the Celebrant that is perfect for you – just like you, us Celebrants are all different and offer unique services and styles.


You would need to book a statutory marriage at your local Registry Office. Sometimes these are only performed at the main office for your County and might be only certain days and times of the week. This involves you two and two witnesses, it will be performed in the office and not in a ceremony room and usually only involves the legal wording (I have mentioned above) and the signing of the Register. The cost is currently £56 (based on prices in Hertfordshire as at July 2019). Cost may vary but are often very similar across the Country.

When should I do the legal bit?

As with a Civil Marriage, you will still be required to give notice of marriage 1 month before your legal marriage (which costs around £35 each – based on prices in Hertfordshire as at July 2019).

This statutory marriage is often booked to take place the week before you are having your Celebrant led Wedding, but there’s no rules as to when this should be and it could be performed at a later date if you prefer.

What changes are being made to the Marriage Laws in England and Wales?

It has just been announced that the review process for Marriage Law is underway and is expected to take 2 years.

Subject to the findings from the independent Law Commission review, the government’s aim is to ensure couples can marry in a way that is individually meaningful for them, while continuing to preserve the dignity of marriage ceremonies.

Importantly the review will consider ‘How the law might allow nonreligious belief organisations and independent celebrants to conduct weddings (with the decision of whether they should be authorised to do so to be made by Government).

We have a long way ahead of us, but this is good news! The current Marriage Laws are still solidly based on those made in 1836 and other than abolishing marriage for under 16’s in 1949, introducing licenced venues in 1994 and the marriage of same sex couples becoming legal in 2013 there has been little change.

We live in an age of choice and respecting our differences, so it’s long overdue that these choices be recognised within our Marriage Laws.

So, what do you think? I’d love to hear your views on this, please feel free to add a comment.

Kelly is an Independent Celebrant based in Hertfordshire and is passionate about getting to know her couples in order to write a perfect Wedding Ceremony that completely reflects them and their vision for their big day. She loves the fact that we are all so unique and this is the exact reason she loves her job, no two ceremonies are the same. Kelly covers Herts, Beds, Bucks and can stretch a little further but may need to add reasonable travel and time expenses.

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