Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Getting married in Ecuador: Part One - the Civil wedding service

Part One: The civil wedding

I got married in Ecuador not once but twice. What was once a deeply Catholic country is becoming increasingly secular (although centuries of Catholicism still ensures which direction Ecuador's moral compass points to this day).

A secular state means a marriage service stripped of religious jiggery-pokery. So what are you left with? A rather soulless service held in a government office presided over by a bureaucrat who pronounces 'husband and wife' with the same listlessness as rubber-stamping a planning application.

This is where I was married - Direccion General de Registro Civil, Quito
My first wedding took place in Quito's central registry office, close to the Quicentro shopping centre and the main park. Being an Englishman simplified our wedding plans... I was only allowed to marry in the Direccion General de Registro Civil. Ecuadorians marrying compatriots can pay for a registrar to visit their venue but foreigners don't get this luxury.

We tried to keep the civil wedding under wraps, partly because none of my family from England were attending and partly because we didn't want to steal the thunder of the big church wedding we were planning later that year. Of course, there was no way we could keep it a secret from the Ecuadorian wing of the family and Lucy's parents, sisters, cousin Shaopix and friend Tanya all attended (the latter were witnesses).

Although neither Lucy or I had placed very much stock on the civil wedding when the day arrived I think we both recognised its significance. Although we had tried to pretend to the contrary, this was the real thing. We might tell everybody that the real wedding was in a couple of months time but legally this was the only one that counted. I wore my brown three-piece suit and Lucy wore white - well, it is a wedding after all.

Smiles after the service with Lucy and her sisters
I was very nervous on the way to the registry office, packed into the Fundacion Alli Causai truck and - as the only foreigner - feeling ever so slightly isolated. Nobody from England was with me to share the moment... largely because I had kept it a secret. There had been nothing Byzantine about keeping mum, it was just that people were making great efforts to attend the religious wedding in two months time and I didn't want them to think they'd missed the boat, My parents had only had a civil wedding at a registry office and I worried that doing things twice might have seemed needlessly showy for my thrifty father's northern sensibility.

On Lucy's side were her parents and her three sisters, Arlen, Emilia and Camila. Her cousin Nidia and her friend Tanya served as our witnesses. Nidia tried to combine her duties as witness with a secondary role as photographer, but I think it proved harder than she'd expected and we weren't exactly presented with an album of 'keepers'. Not to worry - during the short service a cartoonist entered the room and sketched us both in charcoal. I was portrayed as a towering, long-haired giant with beady, little eyes... so I suppose it was a fairly good likeness. If I ever see the caricature again I will publish it on this blog but I fear it may be lost forever.

I was nervous ahead of the service but I knew what to expect, having attended (and photographed) the civil ceremony of our friends Tanya and Christian a few months earlier. It is short, official and humourless and aside from signing your name on a document there is no ritual and few frills.

Afterwards we headed back to the north of Quito and to Nidia's house to eat sushi (probably Emilia's idea) and cakes (probably Carlos' idea) and sparkling wine (probably my idea).

I think Lucy and I were both feeling relieved. Bureaucracy in Ecuador isn't always a straight-forward matter - particularly when you are a foreigner and documents need to be counter-signed and verified. I'm sure in the back of both of our minds we had considered the possibility of an official declining my papers.

So legally we were married but we had both steeled ourselves to disregard this ceremony. Neither of us wanted to detract from the big bash on the horizon. Of course, we were married and this was a fact we could not avoid and in response we played a little game, asking one another what percentage married we felt... it wasn't a very scientific scale but the answers tended to skirt between 20-70 per cent. Of course, neither of us wanted to score higher than 70 in case it took anything away from the next wedding.

Let's say, the formalities were completed. The paperwork was in order... now we could set about the real challenge - putting the finishing touches to an ambitious wedding where all our friends and family would be in attendance.

The fun was about to start...

Part Two: The Real/Fake Wedding


  1. I think that this place is really suitable for any size of gathering. By the way, they offer a day care room with lots of toys for children. The food at wedding venues Los Angeles is always delicious and the service is always great. Also the view is absolutely amazing.

  2. Hi Tom,

    Did you need to make an appointment before the service? If so how long did you need to wait between making the appointment and the date of the service?