More and more people in Scotland are marrying in civil ceremonies.
Fewer than half of Scottish weddings last year had a religious ceremony, according to figures from the Registrar General.
It shouldn’t be a surprise, really. I suppose those results are beginning to reflect the (ir)religious makeup of Great Britain in general.
The truth is, Britain is a very secular society and has been for a long time – far more secular than a country like the United States. Fewer than 2 per cent of the population go to church, for all that it is nominally a Christian country and that the Queen is the head of the Church of England.
Most Brits who don’t profess another faith such as Islam or Sikism or Hinduism would, when questioned, vaguely admit to believing in ‘something’ greater than themselves, but it remains vague and nebulous. More of a ‘wouldn’t it be nice to see granny again?’ than a concrete concept.
The DH and I had a register office ceremony when we married, and I found out then that church ceremonies were pretty meaningless to most of the people I knew. When people asked me why I wasn’t getting married in church, I would say: "Because I’m an atheist," and nearly 100 per cent of the time, the reply was: "What’s that got to do with it?" They found my ‘principles’ on this issue a bit amusing.
After all, British churches are picturesque places, often ancient and suffused with history, and they do make a good backdrop for a nice white dress and lots of flowers. I honestly think that most brides think of them as simply a setting for a big event. It can come as a shock then if you get one of those interfering vicars who actually expects you to take your vows before God seriously. I know more than a few people who’ve complained at having to learn about ‘all that religious stuff’, given that they fully intend to forget it five minutes after the ceremony. For most Brits, church is a place they only attend for weddings and funerals, and sometimes not even then, given that most people in the UK get cremated, not buried.
When the DH and I married, people had only just been given permission to marry outside their borough, which meant that a swathe of picturesque properties such as stately homes had applied for licences to conduct weddings. Again this may come as a surprise to American readers, where weddings can even take place in people’s private homes but this isn’t permitted in the UK: weddings must be held ‘in a public place’ and it must be a permanent structure with a proper roof – no tents or hot-air balloons etc, and the scene in Friends where Ross doesn’t marry Emily could never take place in real life.
However, no licence had yet been granted, the reason being that the agencies granting the licences were the local authorities running the registry offices. Understandably, they were reluctant to grant licences to de facto rivals.
Given my druthers, I really wanted to marry at Blicking Hall in Norfolk, which had sentimental associations for me, but Blickling hadn’t yet got its licence. Nor, really, was it interested in a party of four – just ourselves and our witnesses – but was rather gearing itself up for big society do’s with hundreds of posh women in hats.
Nevertheless we were lucky – I happened upon Westminster Registry Office with its oak panelling and velvet seats, and it also had flowers everywhere and mirrors and pretty fireplaces. So in the end I got my nice backdrop for the photographs without having to profess before a god I didn’t believe in.
It seems strange that that we have been together the best part of 20 years, because I never thought, in all honesty, that I would ever get married at all, so to find myself happily hitched is rather a shocker. My father would have been terribly disappointed, as he thought of marriage as a trap and had planned for me to be the first female Labour Prime Minister (and leading playwright and barrister too). Oh well, Daddy would just have had to lump it, wouldn’t he?