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Civil marriage or secular marriage is a marriage which is performed by a government official and not a religious organization.

Civil marriage historyEdit

Civil Marriages were first recognized by western countries during the 17th century, and nowadays are almost universally accepted as an institution. Every country which maintains a population registration of its residents also has an indication of marital status, and most countries believe that it is their authority to register a married couple. Most states define the conditions of civil marriage separately from religious requirements. Certain states, such as Israel, only allow couples to register on the condition that they are married in a religious ceremony recognized by the state or were married in a different country.

In EnglandEdit

In medieval Europe, marriage came under the jurisdiction of canon law, which recognized as a valid marriage one where the parties stated that they took one another as wife and husband, even in absence of any witnesses. This institution was canceled in England with the legislation of "Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act" of 1753. This law required the conduction and registration of an official ceremony as validation of the marriage. The ceremony was recognized and registered only if it took place in a church recognized by the state (the Anglican church, the Quakers church or a Jewish ceremony), and any other form of marriage was proclaimed as abolished. Children born into unions which were not valid under the act could not inherit the property of their parents. Due to historical reasons the law was not applied to Scotland, and until 1940 it was enough in Scotland for a man and a woman to pledge their commitment to each other in front of witnesses to legalize the marriage. This led to the industry of "fast marriages" in towns on the boundary of Scotland- the town of Gretna Green was particularly well known as such. In 1863 the demand that the ceremony take place in a religious forum was removed, and the registrar was given the authority to register marriages which were not conducted by a religious official.[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Nowadays England permits civil marriages without any religious ceremony, under the "superintendent registrar". Those marriages require a certificate, and at times a license, that testify that the couple is fit for marriage. A short time after they are approved in the superintendent registrar offices, a short ceremony takes place in which the superintendent registrar, the couple and two witnesses must attend. This ceremony takes place according to an official form, and isn't bound to any religious demands whatever.

Civil marriage in EuropeEdit

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Many European countries had institutions which were parallel to the "marriage of the acceptable sentence". In 1566 was published the edict of the Council of Trent which denied Catholics any form of marriage which is not executed in a religious ceremony in front of a priest and two witnesses.

The protestant pastor and theologian from Geneva, John Calvin, determined in the decree that, in order for a couple to be considered married, they must be registered by the state in addition to a ceremony in a church.

In 1792, with the French Revolution, religious marriage ceremonies in France were completely invalidated in favor of civil marriage. Religious ceremonies could be held as well, but only by couples who were already married under a civil ceremony. Napoleon later spread this custom throughout most of Europe.

In Germany, the Napoleonic code was valid only in the territories which were conquered by Napoleon. With the fall of his empire, the custom of civil marriage in Germany began to die out, and for a period of time there were certain territories in which it was customary to have a civil marriage and certain territories in which it was not. With the union of Germany as one kingdom in 1875, Otto von Bismarck legislated the "civil marriage law" (see also: Kulturkampf). Since the enactment of the law, the only marriages which are recognized in Germany are civil marriages. Religious ceremonies are performed at the couple's discretion. Until Dec. 31, 2008, religious marriages may not be performed until the couple is first married under a civil ceremony.

Civil marriage in the world currentlyEdit

In many of the states in the United States, it is possible to get a civil marriage. Such wedding ceremonies are held in front of a local civil authority, such as the mayor, a judge, or other public official. Many times, these ceremonies can include mention of a deity, but the most do not tend to relate to any specific religion. Many of these ceremonies take place in the town hall or the local courthouse. As part of those ceremonies, a religious official such as a rabbi, pastor, or qadi is granted an authorization from the state to conduct the marriage, and so it is possible to unify the religious ceremony with the civil ceremony.

In many countries such as France, Spain, Germany, Turkey, Argentina and Russia, there is an obligation to get married in a civil ceremony. Later, couples can get married in a religious ceremony. Its significance, however, is only religious recognition of the marriage, because the recognition of the state is given regardless.

In Israel, the marriage is recognized only if conducted in a religious ceremony (or conducted in a different country), and the state is not allowed to create the legal position, but only to recognize it and register it in the civil registry.

Civil marriage of same-sex couplesEdit

Main article: Same-sex marriage
See also: Civil union

Since 2001 five countries- Holland, Belgium, Spain, Canada and South Africa- have begun to legally sanction marriages between same-sex couples, giving them the same rights afforded to heterosexual married couples. Israel, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles, among other countries, recognize same-sex marriages conducted and registered in other countries, though they do not permit these marriages to be conducted within their own borders.

Only two states in the U.S.: Massachusetts and Connecticut, currently recognize same-sex unions as legal marriages. In 24 countries worldwide, and several other states within the US, a same-sex couple can be legally partnered in a civil union or registered partnership. These partnerships, first recognized in Denmark in 1989 are afforded rights and obligations similar to those afforded by a marriage, though many people do not regard them in the same light as a marriage.

In the United States, a piece of legislation called The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage at the federal level in purely heterosexual terms. Additionally, many states will not recognize and afforded a same-sex couple in a civil union the same rights and responsibilities as a married opposite-sex couple.

See alsoEdit

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