Marriage is often one of the key events in an individual's life. Modern couples are questioning more and more the formalities imposed by the law for the celebration of a civil marriage and they aspire to a more personalised organisation of their ceremony. Indeed, such a significant event deserves to be able to best accommodate the individuals’ wishes, as they are celebrating their lifelong union. It is therefore important to offer them a more contemporary approach to the organisation of their official ceremony.
Conscious of this public demand, the current government has proposed in the coalition agreement 2018-2023 to modernise civil ceremonies, including the celebration of civil marriage and partnership, without neglecting the dignity, solemnity and public nature of this official act.
The new law adopted by the Chamber of Deputies on May 19th, 2022 amends both the Civil Code and the amended Municipal Law of 13 December 1988.
Firstly, the local council is able to designate one or more locations for the celebration of marriages, in addition to the City Hall, according to criteria specified in the Municipal Law.
Secondly, the mayor can delegate more easily to an alderman or council member the authority to celebrate a given marriage or declaration of partnership.
Criteria to be met by locations for the celebration of marriages or partnerships
The municipal council can allocate for the celebration of marriages or partnerships any immovable property, other than the City Hall, which meets the following criteria:
- it belongs to the municipality, the State, or a public institution. The celebration of marriages in a building belonging to the State or to a public establishment respectively is subject to its agreement;
- be located on the territory of the municipality in which the ceremony is to be held;
- be assigned to a public service;
- be of neutral character;
- guarantee a solemn and public celebration of the marriage or partnership;
- enable the civil registrar to perform his or her duties in accordance with his or her obligations.
The municipal is able to draw up a list determining the possible locations of celebration on the territory of its municipality. The future spouses have the possibility to choose among the locations thus established by the commune.
Specifications on the six criteria
The new law proposes to consider not only locations owned by municipalities, but also those owned by the State or a public institution. This enables all municipalities in the country, regardless of their size, to offer their citizens the possibility of celebrating a marriage or partnership in a location other than the City Hall. In the case of a location owned by the State or a public institution (e.g. a municipal syndicate, the CGDIS), it is up to the respective municipality, the State or the public institution concerned to agree on the conditions for the use of the property.
Examples of locations allocated to a public service that may be chosen are town halls, historical monuments, public and festive halls, castles open to the public, municipal stadiums, municipal parks, fire and rescue centres or any other real estate specially fitted for the performance of public services.
The place of celebration designated by the local council must ensure that the celebration is accessible to the public.
It must also be neutral, which means that it cannot be used for religious worship. However, in order to be considered neutral, municipalities are not obliged to empty a former place of worship of any furniture or decorative objects with a religious connotation. The legal act of clearance is decisive and sufficient for civil ceremonies to be held there. “Neutral" also means that the property cannot be used for the practice of a political, philosophical, social or other ideology that is contrary to the fundamental values of a democratic society.
Furthermore, the location of the ceremony must allow for a solemn setting. More specifically, the property must be suitable for the celebration of a dignified ceremony.
Flexibility regarding the officiating of spouses
The legislation also allows the mayor to delegate his or her duties as civil registrar to an alderman or a council member on an ad hoc basis. At present, the mayor can officially only be replaced if he or she is unable to attend.
This gives the ceremony a more personal touch. This is an important point for the legislators, as it is constant practice for future spouses to request that their marriage or partnership be celebrated by an alderman or council member with whom they have, for example, friendly ties.