A web search for an answer to this question brings up the Wikipedia definition as follows:
A civil registry ceremony is a non-religious legal marriage ceremony performed by a government official or functionary.
However this is not quite an accurate definition from an Australian perspective, even though in Australia civil ceremonies have their historical roots in the creation of the Civil Marriage Celebrant Program in 1973.
of citizens in their ordinary capacity, or of the ordinary life and affairs of citizens, as distinguished from military and ecclesiastical life and affairs."
systems of law influenced significantly and in various ways by Roman law, especially as contained in the Corpus Juris Civilis, as distinct from the common law and canon or ecclesiastical law.
- a :of or relating to citizens
b: of or relating to the state or its citizenry <civil strife>
- a : civilized <civil society>
b : adequate in courtesy and politeness : mannerly <a civil question>
- a : of, relating to, or based on civil law
b : relating to private rights and to remedies sought by action or suit distinct from criminal proceedings
c : established by law
This Merriam-Webster Dictionary has descriptions that are perhaps closer to the use in Australia because civil includes secular and religious people, where as "Humanist" ceremonies implies "secular = atheist/ agnostic" beliefs.
Civil celebrants uphold Australia's anti-discrimination laws.
This video by the British Humanist Society describes what we call Civil Ceremonies in Australia.
Australia has led the world in the development of civil ceremony for all occasions, not just weddings for over 40 years.
- And whilst a celebrant delivering a legally valid marriage civil ceremony needs to be a 'government official or functionary' or have a government authorisation under the Marriage Act 1961, non-government people do offer a range of civil ceremonies as independent professional celebrants.
Civil ceremonies and celebrations for significant life events - for individuals, couples, families or communities - are designed and delivered to provide an inclusive environment in which to
- honour all people - respecting the diversity of their individual talents and skills; gender; sexual preference, race; family, educational, religious, social, cultural backgrounds; life experiences; beliefs; personal, emotional, spiritual, social and other needs
This means some religious content may be included but only at the request of the couple or family.
with the aim of
- celebrating love and life- upholding and inspiring others to live to the best of human values and aspirations
- upholding values that inspire and support people to live meaningful positive lives in the face of adversity, and
- promoting caring, creative, respectful and harmonies relationships at all levels of society.
The power of ceremony is its ability to create a sense of community - to bond people together in healthy ways and to uphold and support them through times of changes.
Religious ceremonies once had that power for whole communities - whole countries even - when all people in the community or country held the same belief systems.
However religious ceremonies are designed for those people who hold a common belief system. So people, who not hold that common religious belief system, when attending those religious ceremonies, will not experience the power of community, as their role is one of observer rather than participant. The content and structure of the ceremony will of its very nature exclude them.
Some religions have not kept pace with the latest research in physiology, psychology, sociology and spirituality.
As such they do not uphold 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which uphold the dignity and worth of all human beings regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, cultural heritage, ability / disability and so on.
Civil and Human Rights represent the 'civilised' or 'enlightened' ethics and values that have evolved out of those religions that have promoted peace, tolerance, compassion, hospitality, "The Golden Rule" and the 'brotherhood' of mankind.
In a multicultural society that respects a range of religious beliefs, the power of ceremony for all citizens is found in civil ceremony - where the ceremony is designed and delivered to be inclusive.
A common misconception is that civil ceremonies are anti-religious and all civil celebrants are atheists and agnostics.
Civil ceremonies may include some 'religious' content and may be delivered by celebrants who hold very religious beliefs. This is similar to the way in which the civil / public service deliver government services to a range of people, whether religious or not, and those government employed people are required to delivering those services without religious discrimination independent of their personal religious or non-religious beliefs.
So in Australia, independent professional civil celebrants may include religious content at the request of the couple or family but aim to do so in a respectful inclusive way so the ceremony is personal, meaningful and memorable for all present.