Free marriage ceremonies too popular, Dutch councils overwhelmed
Free matrimonies, offered by Dutch city councils (gemeente), are proving so popular that councils are having to tone down proceedings to keep costs under control.
According to Joep Schulten, spokesperson for the Dutch Society for Civil Affairs, the number of couples choosing for a free marriage has increased dramatically in the last six years.
Schulten estimates that the total proportion of free marriages in the Netherlands has increased from three per cent in 2008, to 35 per cent in 2014.
Councils are required by law to offer free ceremonies, which are intended for couples with limited financial means. Such marriages usually take place on a weekday morning, officiated by a council representative in a town hall room.
Long waiting lists
Whereas previously a couple could spontaneously tie the knot within two weeks, currently many town halls have waiting lists of over six weeks. Free ceremonies at most town halls in Amsterdam and Eindhoven are fully booked until mid-2015.
What’s more, a free ceremony can cost a town hall as much as 400 euros, stated Schulten, as the preparation of the room and wedding official and host salaries need to be covered.
The minimalist wedding
To reduce demand, councils are employing tactics to make the ceremony less attractive.
Strategies include shortening the duration of the ceremony to 15 minutes and providing limited seating for guests.
The gemeente of Leiden, which previously faced a waiting list of 200 couples, managed to reduce demand by half by streamlining the service and allowing couples only four guests, including witnesses.
Some councils, such as Utrecht, have even eliminated the ceremony altogether and instead offer a baliehuwelijk, literally an "over-the-counter" marriage.