Friday, May 25, 2007

Growing Numbers Saying A Civil 'I do'

THE number of couples saying 'I do' in a registry office is more than five times higher than it was 10 years ago, and the average groom is now aged 33.

For better or worse, the bell has begun to toll for church weddings as the number of civil ceremonies reaches its highest level so far.

The once frowned-upon ceremony has become dramatically popular, partly fuelled by second-time-round divorcees who cannot take their vows at the church altar.

One in five marriages is now a civil ceremony compared with less than one in 10 in 1995.
Figures also show that unmarried couples are in no rush to make a lifelong commitment.

The age of newlyweds has gone further up the 30-something scale, according to the marriage survey by the Central Statistics Office. An average bride is 31 when she takes her first trip down the aisle, compared with 30 in 2002.

Grooms are even more reluctant to tie the knot and are not prepared for the Wedding March until they are 33.

Five years ago he was a year younger and is almost three years older than the average groom in 1996.

However, the number of Catholic ceremonies has grown in the last 10 years and the traditional method of tying the knot is still the most popular.

But this route represents 74pc of marriages now, compared with 90pc in 1996.

Denial

A total of 15,867 Catholic weddings took place in 2005 compared with 4,762 civil marriages.

Civil marriages represented just over 22pc of all marriages and more than five times the 1996 figure of 928.

A Catholic church spokesperson denied that the rise in civil ceremonies has been to the detriment of Catholic weddings.

"Catholic marriage figures are up overall and we had 900 more couples come to us for advice last year," said Stephen Cummins, director of marriage education at voluntary group ACCORD.

He admitted that the ban on divorcees, who might be practising Catholics, marrying in a church, was an "awkward one".

"If there was a major demand, it might have an effect but there doesn't seem to be evidence of that," he said.

The CSO figures show there were 2,112 marriages involving at least one divorced person in 2005, including 420 marriages where both parties were divorced. Civil ceremonies accounted for 1,728 of these marriages.

Wedding planner Kate Deegan linked the rise in civil ceremonies with the rise in divorcees who could not book a Catholic service.

Alternative

She said there were also many engaged couples who had lost their faith who wanted to do the "church thing". As an alternative, she employs "Celtic priests and druids" to offer blessings to couples who cannot have Catholic weddings.

"The main reason for more registry office weddings is that many couples are not allowed to get married in the church," she said.

"Many do the registry office and then have a blessing afterwards. Although they are contradicting themselves, even those who have lost their faith would use the church as a venue because there are so many beautiful churches.

"Registry offices are not that nice and tend to be small, clinical, buildings, sometimes off hospitals. You can't get many people into them.

People want something more and some have family and friends saying poetry to make it more personal, and some have blessings from priests who have stepped aside from the church. Some have blessings on the Cliffs of Moher and others in woods. Everybody's different".

One simplistic form of blessing might appeal to many weary divorcees.

Called "Celtic handfasting", it involves couples making a commitment. A year and a day later they can extend their union.

Rev Canon Victor Stacey of the Church of Ireland said that the numbers getting married in the Church had remained constant.

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