It all began to change in 2009 when the number of civil marriage ceremonies (95,000) began to outnumber church weddings (80,100) for the first time in Spain. Since then, there has also been a surge in the number of marriage officiants, which has today almost become a profession. Madrid now has its own training center for wedding officiants – the first graduating class consisted of 12 people, who have been busy ever since, even though their role has no official legal standing in Spain.
One particular location has also begun to stand out in this boom in civil marriages: the Canary Islands, which is emerging as Spain’s answer to Las Vegas, where hundreds of people tie the knot around the clock every week.
Many couples are not satisfied with merely heading down to their town hall and getting a certificate stamped
Wedding officiants are busier than ever because the number of civil marriages is continuing to grow – last year there were 106,000 such ceremonies, according to the National Statistics Institute. Many of these couples are not satisfied with merely heading down to their local municipal court or town hall and getting an official certificate stamped – they also want something more special, even if it isn’t legally binding. “For a lot of them that kind of procedure is similar to renewing your identity card, where you can go down dressed in jeans,” explained Ana López, director of Apoyo Eventual, the only academy in Spain that offers specific courses on how to officiate at a marriage.
Opened in Madrid last April, the school offers three different courses based on a curriculum inspired by those of similar academies in the United States. People can be certified as Officiant I, Officiant II or in Protocol. So far, there have only been graduates in the Officiant I category “because this position is enough to preside over a wedding,” López said.
The course costs €99 and includes three hours of theory in the morning and three hours of practice as a wedding officiant in the afternoon, separated by a lunch break.
Andreas Fischer didn’t need any formal training. By chance, he presided over his first marriage in 2008 when some friends, who had just put together a wedding-planning company in Tenerife, asked him to officiate at a ceremony at the last minute. They thought Andreas would be the right choice because of his outgoing personality and his elegant manner.
Since then, he has officiated at nearly a hundred civil ceremonies, a duty he combines with his morning job as an investment advisor.
The money officiants make – about €200 each at two or three weddings a month – is not enough to live on
Andreas is one of around 10 people in Tenerife who officiate at weddings on a regular basis. Many of them have registered as self-employed, even though the money they make from presiding over marriages – about €200 each at two or three weddings a month – is not enough to live on. It is just extra cash.
Recently, Andreas presided over a ceremony held for Nikola, 31, and Mario, 29. The German couple decided to exchange vows during a trip to Tenerife after they officially got married several days before in their own country.
Such ceremonies are not uncommon in sunny Tenerife, which many foreigners find the ideal place to tie the knot or renew their vows. “We organize around 70 weddings a year and we have seven officiants who can perform marriages in Spanish, German, English, Lithuanian and Russian,” said Nadine García, the owner of wedding organizing firm My Perfect Wedding in Tenerife.
In the future, these officiants could face tough competition if a new law is passed that will allow notaries to legally conduct weddings alongside judges, mayors and town councilors. Nicolás Quintana, a notary, predicts that if the law is passed, there will be more informal ceremonies presided by notaries rather than the formal proceedings that take place in the courts and at town halls.