The Difference Between a Wedding, a Marriage, and Legal Marriage

Can You Have a Meaningful Wedding Without Legal Marriage?

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A wedding is not the same thing as a marriage. Sometimes people use the words "wedding" and "marriage" interchangeably, however, while a wedding typically lasts only a day, a marriage should last a lifetime. A wedding also has many other components aside from the marriage ceremony, including the reception, the honeymoon, the bridal shower, and other wedding parties.

What Are the Definitions of a Wedding, Marriage and Legal Marriage?

The following definitions may be useful when thinking about the difference between a wedding and marriage:

  • Wedding – the ceremony and associated events by which two people are joined in marriage
  • Marriage – a lifelong partnership between two people
  • Legal marriage – a legal contract between two people, registered with the government

The varying definitions of a wedding, marriage and legal marriage has particular significance within the battle for legal recognition for gay marriage. Religious people against gay marriage fear they will have to celebrate gay weddings in their churches and houses of worship, or somehow believe that legal recognition for gay people will change the meanings of their own religious wedding ceremonies. On the other side, gays and lesbians have sometimes devalued the worth of having a wedding if their marriage cannot have legal standing. In the recent battle over Proposition 8, some have said that when Prop 8 passed, their weddings meant nothing.

Are Legal Weddings Substitutes for a Meaningful Wedding?

Legal recognition by the state grants you many rights and benefits.

Although this is the case, it is not the same thing as, or a substitute for, a wedding. Only you can decide when your wedding has real meaning and significance. Surely the love expressed on that day, and the vows that were made, are valuable and worth something. After all, we have seen when celebrities, such as Britney Spears, can make a decision to get married for 24 hours under the influence, while other people may get married only for legal reasons, such as immigration.

The ultimate goal of legal marriage devalues the real institution of marriage enormously considering this context.

How Is The Process Different For a Wedding, Marriage and Legal Marriage?

For a legal marriage, you must obtain a marriage license from your county clerk and pay the amount accordingly. The license should be granted as long as you and your spouse meet the requirements, although the legal requirements vary from state to state. For example, most states require spouses to be 18 years or older but not all will take blood tests. Having a life partner or a lifelong partnership between two people may be considered a marriage by definition, but is is not legal without proper documentation through the legal process. Furthermore, the wedding is only a ceremony which is typically held during or after a marriage is finalized, whether legal or not. Many people appreciate the ritual of a wedding despite not wanting to or being able to get legally married.​​​