Quebecers turn to family and friends to officiate weddings

A quarter of opposite-sex weddings in 2015 were officiated by a “designated person” – and that number is rising

MONTREAL – While Quebecers aren’t renowned for tying the knot, more of the couples who do choose to marry are saying “I do” in front of a family member or friend instead of a clergy member.

A recent report by the province’s statistics institute found that a quarter of opposite-sex couples chose a “designated person” to officiate their wedding ceremonies in 2015 – a number that’s on the rise, according to the study’s lead author.

“It’s really an upward tendency that has never slowed,” Anne Binette Charbonneau said. “It’s come mainly at the expense of ministers and religious marriages, which have seen their share decline during the same period.”

Quebec introduced a law in 2002 making it relatively simple for someone who is close to a couple to be authorized by the justice minister to perform a single marriage ceremony.

The applicant must be a Canadian citizen or Quebec resident, have no recent criminal record, speak English or French and agree to meet the requirements of the ceremony.

And as religious affiliation wanes, many couples are turning to family and friends to run the show.

When Hugues Viau married five years ago, he said it was a no-brainer to ask his longtime boss, Jean-Roch Thiffault, to conduct the ceremony.

“He’s become a close friend and mentor, so for me it was natural to ask him,” said Viau, a development director at Norref, a Montreal-based seafood product distributor.

This fall it will be Viau’s turn, as he has been asked to officiate at the wedding of another Norref worker, Audrey Gadbois.

Gadbois said she wasn’t interested in having a stranger oversee the ceremony.

“I really feel that having someone I trust, who I respect and who is in my circle, and much more present in my life than any notary or bailiff, is much more representative…than someone who doesn’t know me at all,” she said.

The “designated person” option is now more popular in Quebec than getting married by a court clerk (16 per cent) or a notary (14 per cent). Religious officials still conduct 44 per cent of marriages, down from 71 per cent in 2002.

Among same-sex couples who marry, 37 per cent choose a designated person.

Across Canada, rules vary for who can perform a marriage ceremony.

Some provinces restrict officiating to people associated with religious, government or legal institutions, or to licensed marriage commissioners.

In Manitoba it is possible to become a temporary commissioner for a single wedding, similar to Quebec’s situation.

Barbara Mitchell, a sociology professor at Simon Fraser University, says Quebecers’ choices for their ceremonies reflect a long-term trend toward secularization and a rejection of traditional Catholicism.

“A lot of young people are not formally affiliated with tradition religions and want a non-religious kind of a ceremony,” she said.

People in Quebec are also less likely to marry at all, compared to their counterparts elsewhere in Canada.

According to Statistics Canada, only 35.4 per cent of the province’s population over the age of 15 was married in 2011, compared to 46.4 per cent nationwide.

Newfoundland and Labrador had the highest marriage rate at 52.9 per cent, while Nunavut was lowest at 29.7 per cent.

Mitchell says recent data suggests overall marriage rates are continuing to decline across Canada and that people are choosing to get married at an older age.

She said people also increasingly want ceremonies that are “personalized and unique,” although she noted some ethno-cultural groups, such as many in Vancouver’s South Asian community, still seem to be sticking with traditional, lavish weddings.

“In a multicultural city you’re going to get a lot of diversity with respect to that, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all pattern,” she said.

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