Alternatively, say 'I do' at the zoo

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The Independent Online
Traditional church marriages could be under threat from the new breed of "alternative" civil wedding ceremonies.

Following changes to the Marriage Act two years ago, more than 1,500 venues have been awarded their own marriage licences, including London Zoo, Caerphilly Castle, Chelsea Football Club and even the set of the Rovers Return, Coronation Street's friendly local.

In some parts of the country up to 50 per cent of all weddings are now taking place in these new venues, most of which are fully booked for the summer with some already taking deposits for 1999. In Cheshire 70 marriage licences have been awarded to hotels and establishments which have providedmore than 1,300 marriage services since June 1995. Martin Smith of Cheshire County Council said: "By being pro-active, we've managed to attract business from all over the country.

"This has boosted business for local photographers, car hire firms, dress agencies and caterers. The council receives pounds 155 for each ceremony and pounds 250 for each three-year wedding licence it awards."

But Steve Jenkins, a spokesman for the Church of England, says that religious organisations have nothing to fear from their new competitors. "The majority of people who marry in a church do so because they want a religious service.

"I'm all in favour of more weddings and more choice, but the church offers couples far more than just a marriage ceremony.

"We provide moral guidance, support and preparation. If people are having themed weddings, the most popular theme is still a religious one."

The law prohibits couples from following in the footsteps of Pamela Anderson, the star of Baywatch, who married rock star Tommy Lee as they reclined on sunbeds on a Mexican beach. Only "fixed buildings" which are open to the public can be given wedding licences in Britain, which rules out ceremonies in gardens and private homes.

Those with licences, however, are able to offer couples a wedding to suit their fantasies, and their budget. Themed weddings are now possible, such as Hallowe'en around a Roman ruin or a Jane Austen evening in Bath. At London Zoo, wedding guests can enjoy a reception in the reptile house.

For Andy Hine, the chairman of the British Roller Coaster Club, only the infamous Blackpool Grand National ride was good enough for his wedding.

"It was the marriage of the two loves of my life. For years my chat up line had been: 'Ever fancied getting married on a roller coaster?' It just took a long time to find a woman who said yes."