Civil Ceremony, Secular Ceremony, Humanist Ceremony. What's the difference?

by Jennifer Cram (02/03/2019)  | Categories: | Wedding Ceremony |
I was recently asked what is the difference between a civil marriage ceremony, a secular marriage ceremony and a humanist marriage ceremony.

In Australia, all legal marriages, whether solemnised in a church or not, can only be officiated by an individual authorised by the state, so, in that sense, all marriages are civil marriages.  Clergy can be authorised to solemnise legal marriages. The majority of weddings in Australia (about 3 out of every 4) are officiated by civil celebrants, who can be marriage officers in the employ of the various state Registry Offices, or independent marriage celebrants, authorised by the Australian Government.Review of Jennifer Cram, Brisbane Marriage

A civil ceremony
Civil marriage is defined as a marriage solemnised as a civil contract. In other words a civil marriage ceremony is one that is performed, recorded, and recognised by a government official. In many countries, a civil ceremony is one that is solemnised as a civil contract, but without a religious ceremony.

A secular ceremony vs a humanist ceremony
Neither a secular ceremony nor a humanist ceremony references a deity. While civil marriage is defined as a marriage solemnised as a civil contract, both a secular marriage ceremony and a humanist marriage ceremony would be defined as a marriage solemnised as a civil contract, without religious ceremony.

However, a secular ceremony can, and often does, embody many of the characteristics of a religious ceremony. The ceremony as performed by registry offices and by a very large proportion of civil celebrants can, and often does, include a stereotypical gender role bias, including customs from a time when a woman was legally and socially the property of the significant males in her life. As part of the marriage ceremony, her father transferred ownership to her husband. and
as soon as they were pronounced husband and wife her rights, independence and even identity - thus, the Mrs John Smith title - were overtaken by her husband's right and wishes as he became her legal guardian in every way.

A humanist ceremony, on the other hand, presents a view of marriage where the marrying couple are equal. The ceremony will also include nothing that is misogynist, homophobic, transphobic, racist, or disrespectful to anyone who is present, and will ensure that there is complete congruence between the words of the ceremony, the symbolism of the ceremony, symbolic actions within the ceremony, and the choreography of the ceremony.

While humanism does not include belief in deity, afterlife, or divine punishment and reward , expression of personal spiritual beliefs by the couple, is legally acceptable in a civil ceremony in Australia. I encourage and facilitate such expressions, particularly where they are made as an indication of respect for elders and other important family members.