Church or civil marriage ceremony

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Church or Civil Ceremony

Whether to have a church or civil marriage ceremony may be a  decision couples need to make when planning their wedding. While the majority of Australian marriages are now performed in non church settings by civil celebrants, around 25% couples still choose, for a range of reasons to marry in a church or religious setting.

If both of you are church goers, Christians or members of other religions, then this is the appropriate way for you to be married. If you are deciding on a church wedding for other reasons, think carefully.

My daughter related her friend Joan’s experience. Joan and her fiancé Tom were not church goers, although Joan had attended a Catholic high school. She thought her parents would expect her to be married at the local Catholic church and that she would disappoint her parents and grandparents if they had a civil wedding.

Joan and Tom didn’t really discuss it with the family, they just went ahead and organised the church ceremony with the priest. The church was very small and quite unattractive with heavy concrete pillars down the centre aisle. The aisle was too narrow for Joan to walk down with both parents as she had always planned. Although Joan and Tom had met with the priest a number of times leading up to their wedding day, they didn’t feel the ceremony was about them. What’s more Joan was gobsmacked after the wedding when her mother said,

‘If I’d known what the church looked like inside, and what the ceremony was going to be like, I would have tried to talk you out of it before the wedding.’


  • Don’t choose for the wrong reasons. Only choose a church or religious wedding ceremony if you are committed to or intend to become committed to that religion.
  • Never choose your ceremony location based on what the church looks like. There are attractive non-religious chapels and ceremony locations around which are aesthetically pleasing.
  • If one of you is deeply religious and the other is not, spend time talking through the reasons each of you wants to be married in a particular way. What is important to each of you? Are there compromises you can make and with which you would both be comfortable? How will you decide your level of religious participation in life after the ceremony?
  • Avoid making assumptions about what your family wants. Find out. Ask them, but in the end make the decision based on what you want together.
Deciding on a church or civil marriage ceremony is a task for some couples.