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

Can You Have a Meaningful Wedding Without Legal Marriage?

Is a Wedding the Same Thing as a Marriage?

Sometimes people use the words wedding and marriage interchangeably. But 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 parties.

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

This has particularly had 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 think 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 can't have legal standing. In the recent battle over Prop 8 (which for the record, I opposed), some have said that when Prop 8 passed, their weddings meant nothing.

I think both are wrong. Legal recognition by the state grants you many rights and benefits. But 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 they made are worth something.

After all, when Britney Spears can get married for 24 hours on a drunken decision, and other people get married only for legal reasons such as immigration, to say that legal marriage is ultimate goal devalues the real institution of marriage enormously.