What does "a civil official" mean in the following context?
How goes a marriage by a civil official?

In a 2,500-person nationally representative survey commissioned for my book, I found that weddings with religious leaders of different faiths are rare: Only 4% of interfaith — and, surprisingly, 2% of same-faith — couples employ them. Instead, interfaith couples are much more likely to have used a civil official.

  • A government official a "civil wedding" is a non-religous one. A government employee is a civil servant in BE
    – mgb
    Aug 22, 2013 at 4:06

2 Answers 2


Following the answer from @BlessedGeek, I would add that, in the UK (and specifically England), every marriage has to be administered by a 'recognised' official. That would include many - probably most, but not all - religious ministers, etc., and civil Registrars.

Registrars (more particularly the Registrar of Births, Marriages and Deaths) would not normally be existing civil officials who are also authorised to administer marriages (as described by @BlessedGeek), but officials whose primary job is to maintain the official Registers of Births, Marriages and Deaths.

[This answer is based on my 'background' understanding of the UK system within England, not on any research or direct experience - except of being married in a Registry Office - and should be read in that light. I would expect the general principles apply to the rest of the UK, but details may differ.]

  • In Scotland, the Registrar General has extended the right to perform legal marriages to Humanist celebrants. humanism-scotland.org.uk/content/wedding_ceremonies. It´s a discretionary dispensation which he has been making on a rolling basis every year since 2005 - he (or a future Registrar General) could change his mind unless the Scottish parliament legislates to extend the capability officially to Humanists.
    – itsbruce
    Aug 22, 2013 at 13:14
  • @itsbruce Thanks. Apologies for not thinking about differences between different parts of the UK - I've updated my answer.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 22, 2013 at 13:25

In many countries and jurisdictions, it is legislated (by law) that a marriage is legally recognised only after the marriage vows had been administered by a person licensed to administer such vows.

In many countries and jurisdictions, a religious minister could apply to be a licensed marriage officiator to legally administer marriage vows. However, many couples in such countries either are unable or prefer not to have their marriage administered by a religious minister. In such cases, their marriage could be administered by the city clerk, mayor, justice-of-peace (perhaps, the police chief even?) or any civilian government official allowed by law to administer marriages. Such marriages are said to be officiated by a civil official, and are usually termed civil marriage or civil ceremony.

There are rare jurisdictions where anyone could administer marriage vows where the marriage would be legally recognised (Montana, for instance). However, such marriages if not officiated by a civil government official or by a religious minister would be a civil marriage but not officiated by a civil official but by a civil person. (What if the marriage was administered by a friend who happened to be an off-duty soldier?)

Therefore, civil marriage rituals are usually differentiated from religious marriage rituals by not being administered by a religious minister.

OTOH, if a couple (of soldiers) wish to be married not by a chaplain (religious officer in the military) but by a superior officer, such marriages would not be considered a civil marriage since they are not officiated by a civil official of the government but by a marshal official of the government.

  • Sea captains come to mind too
    – mplungjan
    Aug 22, 2013 at 6:39
  • Is there amy maritime law or convention constraining who a ship captain should be, eligible to legally administer a marriage? A fishing boat captain could administer? What is a group of gay couples rented a yacht and appointed a friend as captain, and had their "captain" marry them? Aug 22, 2013 at 8:37
  • Actually it seems I am beleiveing a myth straightdope.com/columns/read/546/…
    – mplungjan
    Aug 22, 2013 at 9:02

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