Those who did not get married in church had to handle the civil aspects themselves. Althought lacking the pomp and ceremony of a church marriage, one in a registry office could be equally good fun. Certainly, in the old days when I was still not half the age I am now, the antiquated English delivered by the Registrar, would have you smile, or even laugh - and you could because you weren't in church.
There has long been an argument for taking the church out of the civil registration process, which should be separate.
In the days of few religions here, a church marriage certificate was itself acceptable in place of a civil one for all sorts of civil purposes. Not any more, as I found out a few years ago. And, on reflection, right order.
However, nothing was done about the current arrangements for marriage registration, and the church continued to act as an agent for the state in the matter.
Now the RC Bishops are threatening to "work to rule", sort of, and refuse to do the State's business if the State introduces gay marriage. Their rationale is that gay marriage is unilaterally changing the terms of the current contract between Church and State, and so all bets ar off. As it is most unlikely that gays will be allowed to be married in an RC church, this is really a threat to inconvenience the State and all those RCs opting to have a church marriage.
If arrangements had been properly reorganised way back, the RC Church would not have this lever to pull today.
I wonder, however, if they have thought it through. Might their stand not lead to a significant number of RCs opting for the civil ceremony, which can now take place in all sorts of romantic places and not just in the Registry Office? And if the same RCs felt the need for Divine inclusion, could they then not just get a priest to informally bless their union? How would this affect the RC Church's income stream, I wonder?
Something like this has been happening in cases, for example, where a couple were married in the church of one spouse's denomination, but, for whatever reason, felt the need for the union to be blessed by the denomination of the other spouse.
I am familiar with one such case (see civil registry entries below), but in this case, unfortunately, the RC priest involved in the second ceremony recorded it for civil purposes as an actual (civil) marriage between the already married couple, who were duly registered as entering this second process as spinster and bachelor.
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It is clearly time for all this confusion to cease. The couple marry each other. This is then registered and recognised by the State. As things stand, the RC priest is only a witness at a ceremony where the couple marry each other and the marriage is then recognised by that denomination. So there are no great thological/constitutional problems here. Merely the small matter of resources. No doubt the State could cover the financing of the new arrangement somewhere in the current package of savage stealth taxes in the pipeline.
Clearly time to call the Bishop's Bluff.