Civil marriage ceremonies must not be religious in nature: whilst any readings, music etc containing an incidental reference to a god or deity would be acceptable, the reading or piece of music in which such a reference is contained must be essentially non-religious in context. Civil marriage ceremonies should not include extracts from an authorised religious marriage service or readings from sacred religious texts, hymns or other religious chants. Nor should they involve any religious rituals or any form of worship. This applies to any material used by way of introduction or conclusion to the ceremony.
Readings such as the love poem "How Do I Love Thee" by Elizabeth Barrett Browning ("Sonnets from the Portuguese") are acceptable. Whilst the word "God" appears, it is an essentially non-religious context (a love poem). "Howard’s End" by E M Forster would also fit this category. Popular songs such as "Angels" by Robbie Williams and "I Say A Little Prayer" by Aretha Franklin are fine. There are some popular pieces of music such as Wagner’s "The Wedding March" from Lohengrin (more popularly referred to as "Here Comes the Bride") which was written for an opera and would be acceptable, as would be Mendelssohn’s "Wedding March".
Some readings from "The Prophet" by Khalil Gibran (a philosophical / spiritual work but perhaps not specifically a religious one) might be acceptable but this would depend on the particular reading chosen e.g. the extract on ‘marriage’ is suitable. Similarly, the music for Schubert’s "Ave Maria" was not originally written for the Latin prayer "Hail Mary", and the music alone is, therefore, acceptable.
There are, however, some readings or music which cannot be included, such as any readings from "sacred religious texts" e.g. the Bible or Koran. This would prohibit extracts from the "Song of Songs", or St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians ("Love is patient, love is kind. etc). Similarly, wording such as "to have and to hold, in sickness and in health" should not be used since this is taken from the Church of England Book of Common Prayer. Hymns should also not be included, either the words or the music.
Rituals or symbols which may have a religious connotation are not acceptable. Examples of this may be the inclusion in the ceremony of any physical symbolism such as the presence of a canopy for a later religious ceremony, or any reference to a "hand fasting" ceremony (an ancient pagan ritual). This does not include the exchange of rings, which is a commonly-recognised and acceptable feature of civil as well as religious weddings.