Wedding Cancelled!

November 17th, 2014

By Hannah Wroe Gill

I think it’s a true sign of the times that I’ve experienced such polar opposites in my dealings with Registrars this year. On the one hand, I came highly recommended to one couple by a Registrar I had already worked with; on the other, one of their ill-informed colleagues cancelled a wedding just 3 days before it was to take place.

Ironically, the young couple in question had actually gone over and above what might be expected by informing their Registrar at their initial meeting of their intention to have a Humanist ceremony. They were told categorically this was no problem and so understandably proceeded to throw themselves into anticipating their day.  Unfortunately, when the Registration Services Manager from the very same office overheard a conversation in the venue itself, suddenly all those cherished plans were up in the air.

The lady in question telephoned my clients and told them she would not allow a Humanist ceremony in the building since it would breach their licence.  Apparently they could have a short ceremony conducted by the Registrar instead but this wouldn’t be legally binding since they had already arranged to have that happen separately.  The beautiful wedding we had spent months carefully designing and creating simply would not be allowed to happen.

I think anyone in that unenviable situation would panic but whilst they were very distressed, my couple never doubted that it was the manager who was in the wrong, not them.  Although they made their case in the strongest terms, it was clear from the outset they no longer had any say in the kind of wedding ceremony they would have.  It was an extraordinarily frustrating few days for all concerned.  With so little time to organise a Plan C, my clients found themselves having to grudgingly accept the manager’s proposal, making it clear they would be taking the matter further.

Sure enough, within days we had the inevitable official confirmation from the General Registrar Office (GRO) in Southport that we needed, but of course it was too late by then.  Against the odds, the couple had managed to make the best of their day, but were understandably left wondering how it could all have gone so wrong.  I don’t know if they ever had an apology from the lady concerned; I know I didn’t.

My understanding is that she believed a Humanist ceremony came under the heading of a religious service and therefore cancelled it on those grounds. She didn’t bother to do any research before making her decision; nor did she call the out of hours number at the GRO that exists for exactly this reason.  I think it says a lot about her attitude and level of training that she didn’t even check.

So what impact might this have on our work going forward? We now have the letter Bobbi Selby kindly sent me (Casework Manager at the GRO) which clearly states there is no issue with Humanist ceremonies taking place in licensed venues.  Bobbi is not only happy for any of us to use this letter (with discretion of course) in our contact with Registrars, but to also mention her name if we need to. She’s a very experienced and senior member of the GRO team and had never heard of a precedent of this nature but now there is a case number and history, so any future query can easily be cross-referenced.

Whilst I think it’s important not to create an issue where there isn’t one, I also think it is worth doing your homework if you are planning to marry clients in a licensed venue.  I now carry this letter with me whenever I’m conducting a ceremony, visiting a venue or meeting a couple.  If clients have booked a licensed venue, I check to see if that venue is familiar with Humanist ceremonies and if they’re not, I get in touch with their wedding co-ordinator and reference the letter in case they’d like to see it.  When a new couple book me, they know I have this backup should they need it.

Whilst it is such a shame that one couple’s day was thrown into such disarray through plain ignorance, hopefully the resulting raising of awareness will mean this never happens again.