marriages in scotland

How to get married in Scotland

So firstly, you’ve said YES – my congratulations to you both!

Now you need to start thinking about all the big and little things needed for your wedding. Besides deciding top priority things like when you would like your Wedding Bagpiper to play on your day(!), one of the most important things you need to do is to get everything in order so you can hold a legally-binding marriage ceremony – one which fits your values and beliefs as a couple.

When it comes to getting married, Scotland has some (good!) differences compared to many other countries, including England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This is a summary of the different types of Scottish wedding ceremonies, and some hopefully useful information and resources to help set you on your way up the aisle.

Types of Wedding Ceremony

In Scotland we have three types of Marriage Ceremonies – Belief, Civil or Religious:

Belief Ceremony


A Belief Ceremony is non-religious ceremony conducted by a celebrant for opposite or same-sex couples.

This type of wedding is officiated by a celebrant, who will create a ceremony which is personalised to the couple being married. Couples may tailor the entire content of their wedding ceremony them as a couple. With your Celebrant’s help, you have the freedom to create your own unique Order of Ceremony and make your marriage all about both of you, and truly your own!

A celebrant-led wedding has no restrictions on what is included. Unlike a civil or religious wedding, a celebrant-led wedding will focus on the couple and what is special and unique about them, as opposed to legalities or religious requirements.

This type of ceremony can be legally binding in Scotland (not in England and Wales!) if your celebrant is affiliated to a government-approved belief group such as the Humanist Society Scotland.

Alternatively, you may wish to have a quick legal legal marriage ceremony with a Registrar, before holding your own own truly bespoke wedding with your family and friends in attendance. This is the norm in England and Wales, where only civil and religious (Church of England) marriages are legally binding.

There are many different types of celebrants. Not only are there Humanist celebrants, but also many independent celebrants like myself, who specialise in different themes. My own focus is upon Scottish wedding traditions.

Civil Ceremony

Edinburgh City Chambers Wedding

A Civil Marriage (not to be confused with a Civil Partnership) is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a district Registrar for both same and opposite-sex couples. The ceremony is conducted by a district Registrar and can take place in a Register Office or another approved place.

Same-sex couples who formerly had a Civil Partnership can convert it to a marriage by completing and signing an application form in the presence of a Registrar. Your marriage is then legally recognised as having started on the date you registered your Civil Partnership. It doesn’t matter if your earlier Civil Partnership was conducted elsewhere in the UK.

A Civil Wedding focuses upon the legal aspects of marriage only. There is very little scope to personalise your wedding to include rituals, readings or any elements which have a special meaning to you. Registrars simply do not have this remit.

Because of this, many couples will have a very basic legal ceremony conducted by a Registrar, with only themselves and their witnesses attending. They then have a celebrant-led ceremony with their friends and family attending, which is their official wedding, which the celebrant makes unique to them.

Religious Ceremony

Bagpiper at religious ceremony

A religious ceremony is conducted by a religious official of your faith such as minister, priest or imam. A Church of Scotland ceremony does not need to be held in a place of worship, as long as the minister approves. Followers of other faiths are welcome too.

Roman Catholic ceremonies are slightly different. These must be held within a place of worship which is in regular use. Either you or your partner has to have been baptised in the Catholic Church. If one of you isn’t Catholic you’ll require special dispensation from a local Catholic Bishop and you may need to attend marriage preparation classes.

Note: Only Church of Scotland ministers and deacons have automatic authority to legally marry you, and that’s only if you are an opposite-sex couple. Clergy from other religions and denominations need to also become a government-authorised marriage officer to carry out marriage legalities.

Religious Same-Sex Marriages

Progress is slow I’m afraid.

Today the Scottish Episcopal Church is the only religious denomination in Scotland to conduct same-sex marriages with no strings attached, as reported here.

The Church of Scotland at their 2022 General Assembly voted in favour of allowing ministers and deacons to conduct same-sex marriages. However, it is at the discretion of individual ministers and deacons as to whether or not they will actually conduct any such ceremony.

While Church of Scotland ministers and deacons have automatic legal authority to conduct opposite-sex marriages, they do not have automatic authority to conduct same-sex marriages unless they have government authorisation to become a marriage officer (also the same for the Scottish Episcopal Church above).

The Scottish Catholic Church and the Free Church of Scotland do not conduct same-sex marriages.

The Legal Bit


Bagpiper for Wedding Vows

Have you already held your legally-binding wedding ceremony, but wish to also hold a truly personalised, symbolic ceremony?

I can not only play the bagpipes for you, but I can create and officiate your symbolic ceremony too! Find out what I can do when officiating your symbolic ceremony!

Bagpiper for Wedding Vows

Have you already held your legally-binding wedding ceremony, and wish to also hold a truly personalised, symbolic ceremony?

I can not only play the bagpipes for you, but I can create and officiate your symbolic ceremony too! Find out what I can do to create your symbolic ceremony!