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Civil marriage or secular marriage is marriage performed by a government official and not a religious organization.

Civil marriage history

Every country maintaining a population registry of its residents keeps track of marital status, and most countries believe that it is their responsibility to register married couples. Most countries define the conditions of civil marriage separately from religious requirements. Certain countries, such as Israel, only allow couples to register on the condition that they have first been married in a religious ceremony recognized by the state, or were married in a different country.

In England

In medieval Europe, marriage was governed by canon law, which recognized 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 church recognized 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 could not inherit the property 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 legalize their marriage. This led to an industry of "fast marriages" in Scottish towns on the border with England. The town of Gretna Greenmarker was particularly well known in this regard. In 1863, the requirement that the ceremony take place in a religious forum was removed, and the registrar was given the authority to register marriages not conducted by a religious official.

Today England permits civil marriages conducted in front of a "superintendent registrar", without any religious ceremony. Such marriages require a certificate, and at times a license, that testify that the couple is fit for marriage. A short time after they are approved in the superintendent registrar's office, a short ceremony takes place at which the superintendent registrar, the couple and two witnesses must attend. This ceremony takes place according to an official form, and does not have a religious format.

Civil marriage in Europe

Many European countries had institutions similar to the "marriage of the acceptable sentence". 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.

The protestant pastor and theologian of Genevamarker, John Calvin, decreed that, in order for a couple to be considered married, they must be registered by the state in addition to a church ceremony.

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 already had been married in a civil ceremony. Napoleon later spread this custom throughout most of Europe.

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, and for a period of time there were certain territories in which civil marriages occurred and certain territories in which they did not. With the union of Germany as one kingdom in 1875, Otto von Bismarck passed the "Civil Marriage Law" (see also: Kulturkampf). From that time on, only civil marriages have been recognized 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

In all states in United States, it is possible to obtain a civil marriage. Such ceremonies are conducted before a local civil authority, such as a mayor, judge, deputy marriage commissioner or other public official. It is not uncommon for these ceremonies make mention of a deity, but most do not reference any specific religion. Many of these ceremonies take place in the town hall or local courthouse. As part of such ceremonies, a religious official such as a rabbi, pastor, or qadi may be given the authority to conduct the marriage by the state, thus unifying the religious with the civil ceremony.

In many countries such as France, Germany, Turkey, Argentina and Russia, 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 Israel, a marriage is recognized only if conducted in a religious ceremony (or conducted in a different country). The state does not create the legal status of "married", but may only recognize and register it in a civil registry.

Civil marriage of same-sex couples

Since April 2001 to today, there are seven countries, the Netherlandsmarker, Belgiummarker, Spainmarker, Canadamarker, South Africa, Norwaymarker and Swedenmarker, which recognize marriages between same-sex couples, thus giving them the same rights afforded to heterosexual married couples. (This does not mean that all same-sex marriages in these countries are civil marriages.) Israelmarker, Arubamarker, Francemarker, the Netherlands Antillesmarker and two U.S. states and one territory, New Yorkmarker, Rhode Islandmarker and the District of Columbiamarker, recognize same-sex marriages registered in other countries, but do not recognise such marriages performed within their borders.

Five states in the United States legally allow same-sex civil marriage. These are Massachusettsmarker, Connecticutmarker, Iowamarker, New Hampshiremarker and Vermontmarker. In 29 countries worldwide, and several other states within the U.S., a same-sex couple can be legally partnered in a civil union or registered partnership. Couples in these partnerships, first recognized in Denmark in 1989, are afforded rights and obligations similar to, but not identical to, those of a married couple. At the federal level in the United States, The Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage in strictly heterosexual terms. Additionally, many individual states in the U.S. do not recognize civil unions and refuse to afford same-sex couples in committed relationships the same rights and responsibilities as married opposite-sex couples.

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