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Marrying People


Recently, I had a bit of a career change…I used to work as an advertising shoot producer. A job I found increasingly more stressful and less rewarding. After I had moaned pretty much consistently about my job over a bottle of wine with a new friend, she told me about what she did for a living: she married people. She reckoned I’d be great at it. I did some investigations, made some enquiries, and now I’ve started marrying people, too.

I don’t actually marry people myself. I’m not a bigamist. I marry people to each other. I work as a marriage registrar. So what does this mean? Isn’t that the same as a celebrant? Well no. Registrars conduct legally binding marriage ceremonies on behalf of the local authority. Celebrants perform bespoke wedding rituals which unite a couple with love and commitment, but it doesn’t bind them from a legal standpoint. They need an actual registrar to do the legal part of their marriage. Even if a couple has a religious marriage, they will need to have this legal registration take place at some point whether before the ceremony, or separately at a registry office.

Registrars, like myself, can marry couples at council registered ceremony rooms or any venue licensed for weddings. Oxfordshire has seven ceremony rooms and nearly a hundred licenced wedding venues varying from rather modest to incredibly lavish, many of which can be hired out for the ceremony as well as the wedding reception itself.

Registrars always work in pairs. It’s a kind of ‘buddy system’. One performs the ceremony, whilst the other does the interviewing and takes care of the legal paperwork. We swap roles, and we look out for each other, check that each other is on point. Because as well as legally binding two people in matrimony, we are creating a certificate for public record, which future generations might look through, to trace their heritage for instance. So, both the ceremony and the paperwork has to be done diligently. There is no room for error.

Also we often have to corral an excited and rowdy wedding party; dressed up to the nines and smelling fabulous. And, we often have to reassure a nervous bride or groom. Actually it is incredibly sweet how nervous they can be: shaking, tearful, laughing, because getting married is a big deal. Hopefully it is only done once in a lifetime, and it sticks.

A registrar must always include particular legal wording in the ceremony. Ever wondered at the archaic phrase ‘I know of no lawful impediment’? Well, a marriage is one of the few examples of a verbal binding contract. The words must be said as required in order for the marriage to be valid. There is a personalised element too with a choice of vows, usually an exchange of rings, and also short readings and excerpts of music, if desired.

However there are restrictions on ceremony content. Absolutely no religious or spiritual content is permitted. It is strictly secular. There is also a ban on drinks and food for half an hour before after the ceremony in the room where it takes place. I’ve asked and no one has been able to tell me exactly why. It is just verboten. I’m sure there is a properly valid reason I’ve yet to discover. Oh yes, and all the documents have to be signed with special blue/black registration ink, which has a sediment that hardens over time and becomes indelible. On paper as well as clothing, so we always have to warn about spillages.

So what’s it like marrying people? It’s a great job, actually. Thus far, I’ve only married people who really wanted to marry each other and looked like they genuinely loved each other. I’ve married two judges in their sixties at the law courts. I’ve married same sex couples, with all the gaiety that a rainbow wedding brings. I’ve married couples from every British cultural background you can think of. Every couple is different, and I get to meet people from all walks of life. But one thing is always the same. Every ceremony is an absolute joy to perform, and when you tell two people they are married to each other, well – there is rarely a dry eye in the place.

Further information:

Oxfordshire Country Council; Celebrate your special day:

Government advice on how to get married:

Advice on how to become a Marriage Registrar:

Sam Faith is a Writer, Director and Deputy Superintendent Marriage Registrar.

Her Facebook page is Sam Faith – Writer, Director, Producer or find her on Twitter @iamsamfaith


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