One of the many benefits of living with an opera singer, besides the casual hatred from your neighbours and having to replace the glassware whenever she does an aria in F#, is that she can go some small way to paying back her debt to you on these counts by singing at weddings. In fact, my girlfriend is singing at two, this Saturday and next. The first couple has requested a romantic duet from Mozart’s nonsense opera (an almost tautologous combination of adjective and noun, there) The Magic Flute, and next week’s man-and-wife-to-be have made the rather more religious choice of a quick Ave Maria.
What she’s found out in the process of researching all this surprised me: turns out you’re not allowed ‘sacred’ music at civil weddings. In fact, you’re not allowed any ‘religious content’ at all. Can I just ask: what the Hell?
Firstly, why can’t a civil ceremony have any sacred elements? I can more see why the reverse might be true—a religious wedding with no sacred elements would be, like the Bible, a little self-refuting—but surely a civil ceremony should be able to comprise whatever you like (within the bounds of taste, decency and [the sensible bits of] the law)? What exactly does ‘sacred’ mean, anyway? Some secularists might think that the love between two human beings is, in this non-supernatural world, as sacred as it gets—is that OK? Can you get away with it if you don’t mention that to the registrar?
So, back to music: who compiles this creepy list of songs which possess religious undertones? What are the criteria? How high does a choon have to score before being sufficiently edifying to classify as sacred? Obviously, hymns are sacred, right? What about Christian rock? What about Jewish jazz? What if a song mentions God, or thanks Him a bit for something? What if they say ‘God’ but could be alluding to a more nuanced philosophical construct couched in a framework accessible to our social consciousness so heavily shaped by the Judeo-Christian tradition but don’t have enough syllables in the chorus to explain this conceit? What if they sampled the Pope? What if they stole the chord progression from Onward Christian Soldiers? What if when you play it backwards and sped up you can convince yourself it’s a sermon about why condoms are bad? And didn’t God make beauty and all that shit anyway, so isn’t all music sacred, even S Club? If there is a God and he is good, why did He make Blink 182?
So, you’ve accidentally played your quasi-religious but assumedly-secular song: more pragmatically, what do they do if you break the law? Is the Registrar legally required to rugby-tackle the choir to the floor before the end of the third bar? Does someone just set off the sprinkler system? It’s not a very bloody civil ceremony if your dress gets ruined just because of your choice of music, is it? Do you re-do the vows, like some kind of Barack Obama? Can they annul the marriage? Normally annulment is a pretty serious thing—if one or other of you is already married, if it’s incestuous or if one or both of you were mental, drunk or stoned at the time you made your vows—can they really call the whole thing off because the ceremony was a bit theologically confused?
What if you’re of another faith, or none at all, and just happen to like the tune or sentiment of a hymn? Well, fuck you, we live in a society apparently at ease with its archaic pact with one specific interpretation of one God, which will only allow marriage which either defends the National Religion, or abandons it entirely and condemns you to Hell by slightly restricting the choice of musical accompaniment when you get married.
I have written a song thanking God for needless, ambiguous, perverse, diversity-strangling legislation. It is so beautiful that I would like it to be played at my civil wedding ceremony.