Couples who want their wedding day marked by Robbie Williams' "Angels" or Schubert's "Ave Maria" are to be granted their wish. The Government announced yesterday it was lifting a long-standing ban on any mention of religion in civil ceremonies. Hymns and readings from sacred texts, such as the Bible and the Koran, will still be banned, but incidental mentions of God, angels or heaven will be allowed.
Strict rules controlling the content of civil ceremonies were drawn up in 1949 to draw a clear distinction with church services. They outlawed the use of favourites such as Aretha Franklin's "I Say A Little Prayer" and Bryan Adams' "Heaven", as well as classical music of religious origin including Handel's "Zadok the Priest".
Readings from sonnets by Shakespeare and Donne or even E M Forster's novel Howards End also found their choices vetoed.
Under new guidance announced yesterday by the Treasury, which has responsibility for the registration of weddings, couples can use music and words "as long as these contain no more than an incidental reference to a god or deity in an essentially non-religious context".
John Healey, financial secretary to the Treasury, said: "These changes will help to make registration services designed for Victorian times fit for today."
The rules will be in place for Christmas weddings. More than 180,000 took place in 2003, compared with a total of 86,000 religious ceremonies. The shake-up follows a campaign by Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, after couples protested to him that their ceremonies had been censored by registrars.