Donald Sensing has some very interesting ideas about separating the religious and legal aspects of marriage.
I posted a comment taking quite the opposite position. Instead of getting the state out of then wedding business, I would rather see the church get out of the wedding business.
This is heresy, of course, not in the sense of violating theological-doctrinal standards, but in the sense of crossing a deeply-embedded, socio-religious more. There still remains in American society a strong sense that you are "supposed" to get married in a church by a cleric, even among couples who never otherwise darken a church's door. A lot of times an engaged couple with no active religious life seek a church wedding just to make mom and dad happy, and/or because they want a traditional photo album of wedding pictures.
That, however, does not bother me. It used to, but I adopted my own personal wedding policy a few years ago: I do not marry couples not under my pastoral care. I am not a wedding mercenary. I am more than willing to talk to total strangers about officiating at their wedding, but they must become part of my flock until the wedding occurs. After that, they can do what they want. In the meantime, I give them Christian witness and pastoral care. I have found that most couples I marry under these conditions have stayed in my church after the wedding, some as members, some as participants.
If these terms are not acceptable to the couple, I offer them my prayer and best wishes. There is a very nice commercial wedding chapel five miles away and I know several county office-holders who can join them, or they can keep on shopping for another pastor and venue.
There are lots of reasons that Donald presents for this point of view, among them the feeling that a lot of weddings often feel like "sexual hypocrisy", as he calls it, because it's become fairly common for people to get married in a religious setting, even though they've already been engaged in sexual activity that their religion restricts to marriage. Further, lots of people want a religious ceremony, even though they're not actually religious. He thinks that if the legal aspects were removed from the religious ceremony churches would feel much less pressure to perform ceremonies for couples who weren't part of their "flock" as well as people they don't feel ought to be married.
I don't know that I agree with all of his specific suggestions, but I think it's not a bad idea to remove the legal aspects from the religious ceremony. (I understand that some European countries have been doing this for quite some time.) In fact, other than the fact that it's come to be expected, I actually see no reason for a religious ceremony at all.
To be more specific, I don't see any doctrinal reason for such a cermony. The traditional wedding ceremony has become so ingrained in our culture that I doubt that most Christians have even thought about the fact that while scripture has an awful lot to say about the rights and responsibilities of married couples, there is no scriptural definition of what constitutes a marriage. As far as I can tell, a couple is married, for biblical purposes, if they profess themselves to be married and society recognizes them as such. I see no biblical reason why a couple couldn't be married by just standing up in front of a crowd one day and saying, "We just wanted to let you know that we're married." (Assuming, of course, that cultural and legal norms would recognize such a marriage.)
Now that doesn't mean that there aren't lots of other reasons to have a religious style ceremony. One of those is that it gives the couple an historic marker they can look back too. It's easier for people to remember the importance of marriage if they have a fixed point in time they can look back too and say, "At time X I made promise Y." There's also lots of cultural and emotional reasons that such ceremonies may be important.
None of that changes the fact that the ceremonies we engage in today are not biblically required and that the confluence of the religious and legal aspects have caused a lot of problems. I think that Christians have developed a blind spot in regards to what is and what is not important in the realm of marriage. That blind spot has caused us to stake out some unneccessary positions in the culture wars.