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A civil marriage is a marriage performed, recorded and recognised by a government official. Such a marriage may be performed by a religious body and recognised by the state, or it may be entirely secular.
Every country maintaining a population registry of its residents keeps track of marital status, and all UN Member countries except Iran, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Tonga have signed or ratified either the United Nations Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages (1962) or the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) which carry a responsibility to register marriages. Most countries define the conditions of civil marriage separately from religious requirements. Certain countries, such as Israel, allow couples to register only on the condition that they have first been married in a religious ceremony recognised by the state, or were married in a different country.
In medieval Europe, marriage was governed by canon law, which recognised as valid only those marriages where the parties stated they took one another as husband and wife, regardless of the presence or absence of witnesses. It was not necessary, however, to be married by any official or cleric. This institution was cancelled in England with the enactment of "Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act" of 1753, which required that, in order to be valid and registered, all marriages were to be performed in an official ceremony in a religious setting recognised by the state, i.e. Church of England, the Quakers, or in a Jewish ceremony. Any other form of marriage was abolished. Children born into unions which were not valid under the Act would not automatically inherit the property or titles of their parents. For historical reasons, the Act did not apply in Scotland. Consequently, until 1940, it continued to be enough in Scotland for a man and a woman to pledge their commitment to each other in front of witnesses to legalise their marriage. This led to an industry of "fast marriages" in Scottish towns on the border with England; the town of Gretna Green was particularly well known for this. In 1836, the requirement that the ceremony take place in a religious forum was removed, and registrars were given the authority to register marriages not conducted by a religious official.
In other European countries
Many European countries had institutions similar to common-law marriage. In 1566, the edict of the Council of Trent was proclaimed denying Catholics any form of marriage not executed in a religious ceremony before a priest and two witnesses.
In 1792, with the French Revolution, religious marriage ceremonies in France were made secondary to civil marriage. Religious ceremonies could still be performed, but only for couples who had already been married in a civil ceremony. Napoleon later spread this custom throughout most of Europe. In present-day France, only civil marriage has legal validity. A religious ceremony may be performed after or before the civil union, but it has no legal effect.
In Germany, the Napoleonic code was valid only in territories conquered by Napoleon. With the fall of his empire, civil marriage in Germany began to die out. However, certain sovereign German states introduced civil marriages, which were either obligatory (like the French model) or optional, with either a religious or civil ceremony being accepted. Already before 1848 the Grand-Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach enacted optional civil marriages, followed by the German republics of the Free City of Frankfurt upon Main (1850, obligatory), Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg (1851, optional) and Free and Hanseatic City of Lübeck (1852, optional). German Grand-Duchies such as Oldenburg (1852/55, optional), Baden (1860) and Hesse (1860) as well as the Kingdom of Württemberg (1863) followed suit. Civil marriages enabled interfaith marriages as well as marriages between spouses of different Christian denominations. After the unification of Germany in 1871, the Reichstag adopted a bill initiated by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck as the "Civil Marriage Law" in 1875 (see: Kulturkampf); since then, only civil marriages have been recognised in Germany. Religious ceremonies may still be performed at the couple's discretion. Until Dec. 31, 2008, religious marriages could not be performed until the couple had first married in a civil ceremony.
Civil marriage in the world currently
England and Wales
Today marriages in England or Wales must be held in authorised premises, which may include register offices, premises such as stately homes, castles and hotels that have been approved by the local authority, churches or chapels of the Church of England or Church in Wales, and other churches and religious premises that have been registered by the registrar general for marriage.
Civil marriages require a certificate, and at times a licence, that testify that the couple is fit for marriage. A short time after they are approved in the superintendent registrar's office, a short non-religious ceremony takes place which the registrar, the couple and two witnesses must attend; guests may also be present. Reference must not be made to God or any deity, or to a particular religion or denomination: this is strictly enforced, and readings and music in the ceremony must be agreed in advance.
All states and the District of Columbia, as well as U.S. Territories, require a marriage license issued by local civil authorities. As a rule, ministers of religion (e.g. rabbis or Christian pastors) are authorized in law to perform marriages; various state or local officials, such as a mayor, judge, deputy marriage commissioner, or justice of the peace, are also empowered to conduct civil wedding ceremonies, which may take place in public offices. Many counties in Pennsylvania allow self-uniting marriages for which no official minister is required, as owing to the state's Quaker heritage. The type of ceremony (religious or civil) has no bearing on the legal validity of the marriage, and there is no requirement to precede a religious rite with a civil ceremony. Marriages performed outside of the United States are legally binding if officially recognized by the government of the country in which they are performed.
Countries with mandatory civil marriage
In most European countries there is a civil ceremony requirement. Following the civil marriage ceremony, couples are free to marry in a religious ceremony. Such ceremonies, however, only serve to provide a religious recognition of the marriage, since the state's recognition has already been given. In some of these countries (e.g. Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey) most couples marry without any religious ceremony at all. Full, formal weddings, complete with wedding gowns and the presence of family and friends, are usually conducted in special ceremonial rooms in the town hall.
Countries with no civil marriage
There is no civil marriage in many Middle Eastern countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Yemen, Iran, Lebanon, and Israel, as well as Libya, Mauritania, and Indonesia, among others; all marriages are conducted by religious authorities, and are registered by civil authorities only after having been registered by authorities of officially approved religions, or, having been registered abroad. Some of those countries as Israel, Syria and Lebanon officially recognize Islam, Christianity, Druze, Judaism, and marriage is possible but usually only within the same community. Contrary to the situation in Lebanon, Syrian law prohibits the recognition of any marriage that falls outside the existing proscriptions of its personal status laws, even if the couple marries abroad.[a] Egypt recognizes civil marriages but is very complicated. One needs to complete all necessary paperwork and then one must go[where?] with two men as one's witnesses. Foreigners will need a paper from their embassy. This yields particular problems for those refused divorce by their spouses, or couples in religious traditions that forbid divorce altogether. Malaysia allows civil marriage for non-Muslims only, while in Kuwait, Bahrain and Afghanistan it is allowed for foreign citizens only.
Civil marriage and other unions of same-sex couples
As of December 2020[update], the following jurisdictions permit same-sex marriages:
- Costa Rica
- Kingdom of Denmark
- New Zealand
- South Africa
- The United Kingdom, including its dependencies
- United States
- States within Mexico
- Israel recognizes same-sex marriage performed abroad 
- Armenia recognizes same-sex marriage performed abroad
In 22 countries worldwide and in several jurisdictions within Mexico, a same-sex couple can be legally partnered in a civil union, domestic partnership or registered partnership. Couples in these unions or partnerships are afforded rights and obligations similar to, but not identical to, those of a married couple.
- During the Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, French High Commissioner of the Levant Damien de Martel enacted Law no. 60/LR (Lois et Réglements) on 13 March 1936, which would give different religious communities the right to form their family laws in their own religious courts. However, Muslims rejected the notion which would make them equal with non-Muslims and lose the privileged status made by the Ottoman Millet system. The Muslims also rejected Law no. 146/LR on 18 November 1938 enacted by High Commissioner Gabriel Puaux, which would recognize civil marriages contracted abroad, and require citizens to follow civil laws which are not explicitly regulated within one's religious community.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Civil marriage.|
- "Civil Marriage Definition". Marriage.about.com. 2012-04-10. Retrieved 2013-03-24.
- "OHCHR | Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage".
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2013-03-31.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- Julius Schoeps, "Emanzipation der Herzen – oder: Der Fall Ferdinand Falkson", in: PreußenJahrBuch: Ein Alamanch [published on the occasion of the Projekt Preussen 2001], Museumspädagogischer Dienst Berlin (MD Berlin) in collaboration with the Landesverband der Museen zu Berlin and Museumsverband des Landes Brandenburg (ed.), Berlin: MD Berlin, 2000, pp. 52–56, here p. 56. ISBN 3-930929-12-0.
- "England and Wales", Legal (article), Wedding Guide UK, archived from the original on 2013-02-09
- "England and Wales", Music Not Allowed at Civil Ceremonies (article), Wedding Music Designer (Simon Jordan)
- Syria: Social repercussions of a marriage between a male Druze and a Muslim woman, UNHCR
- Marriage in Jordan, USA: Jordan embassy, archived from the original on 2011-10-06
- Marriage and weddings, Dubai, UAE FAQs
- Marriage in Indonesia, BCC Visa Law, archived from the original on 2011-11-03, retrieved 2011-08-31
- Hassan, Ali Wadea'. "Between Church and State: Civil Marriage in the Arab World".
- van Eijk 2016, pp. 29–30.
- Marriage in Afghanistan, USA: Kabul embassy, archived from the original on 2011-09-06
- https://dysk.onet.pl/file_download/ojqCz[permanent dead link]
- Israel's Supreme Court approves same-sex marriages performed abroad Archived September 30, 2011, at the Wayback Machine Israel Insider, November 21, 2006