How to be legally married when using a celebrant.

Celebrant ceremonies are growing in popularity as more people look for personalised and meaningful ways to get married. Once you’ve attended a wedding and seen one, it’s hard to go back to a traditional registrar ceremony without it feeling a little lacklustre.

As a Civil celebrant in Sheffield South Yorkshire, I have had lots of conversations with engaged couples interested in celebrant-led ceremonies. I’m often asked about how it all works legally so I feel it necessary to elaborate a little more here.

Can you be legally married by a celebrant?

 In England and Wales, the government has unfortunately dragged their heels on the legal recognition of Civil/Humanist celebrant ceremonies for, quite literally, years. Scotland and Ireland are lightyears ahead of us and civil ceremonies are legalised there. We continue to campaign here.

There are plenty of hopeful signs suggesting it’s now a case of “when” rather than “if”it will happen. While it will happen at some point soon, along with a whole overhaul of marriage law, it’s slow progress for now. The best guesses are that it will happen sometime in the next couple of years.

So, unless you’re planning on eloping to Scotland or Ireland, what are your options?!

Breaking down the legal bit of getting married:

People are often surprised that the “legal bit” of getting married consists of a couple of dozen words. It’s the equivalent of registering a birth or a death down at your local registry office. To be legally married in this country, the only words you need to speak are these Declaratory and Contracting words, which you repeat after the registrar:

Declaratory words:
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I … may not be joined in matrimony to …

Contracting words:
I call upon these persons here present to witness that I …do take thee … to be my lawful wedded wife/husband.

And that is, quite literally, it. You don’t even have to say your vows! You can be in and out in a few minutes.

NB: You of course have to go and “give notice” at your local registry office ahead of your legal wedding date in the same way regardless. This consists of signing a legal statement to say you intend to get married or form a civil partnership. It’s a short appointment but it needs to be booked in advance, and importantly, you must have actually given notice (…not just booked the appointment,) at least 29 days before your legal wedding ceremony. You can find out more about it here:

What are the options?

Have a “2+2” ceremony at the registry office:

This is the simplest way of doing things. “2+2” literally means the couple getting married + two witnesses. You can make an appointment to go and have the most simplistic ceremony, which consists of speaking the above words. Depending on the area you live in, day of the week etc (all councils are different), you can normally do this for as little as £50.

I often work with couples who opt for this choice. It works well for those who want to make things all about the ceremony on their wedding day and celebrate that as their anniversary. You don’t even have to do your vows, so everything will feel fresh and exciting for the big day itself.

Have a full ceremony before (or after) at the registry office:

Equally, some couples like the idea of making the “legal bit” more of an event. You can book a full wedding ceremony there, which many people decide to do a few days before their “big wedding” with the celebrant although that can work out more expensive.

(NB – Doing a full ceremony at the registry office with guests costs considerably more than the 2+2 option above – you can check prices directly with your local council).

Do both on the same day – get your registrar out to your venue:

Some couples feel it’s important to have the legal bit on their big wedding day itself. The warning with this is that can be quite a lot to fit in and again can often work out as quite costly.