Six couples are at the High Court today and tomorrow, challenging the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales…
Supported by Humanists UK, the couples are taking the case to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages, which is already the case in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
A Humanist wedding is “a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values.”
Such ceremonies can currently be held in England and Wales but are not legally recognised – a separate civil marriage must also to take place. The lawyers in this case will argue that the current law discriminates against the couples because of their humanist beliefs, and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation. The hearing in the case would have usually taken place in the Royal Courts of Justice, but it will now take place virtually due to COVID-19.
Humanist marriages were given legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in Northern Ireland in 2018. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will do the same.
69% of the public support legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, but the Government still hasn’t given legal recognition despite Parliament voting in 2013 to give it the power to do so.
Last year in Scotland there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total)!
Humanists UK President Alice Roberts commented:
A humanist marriage is something so incredibly special – a ceremony where the couple decides on the meanings, beliefs and values they feel important and which is in keeping with their humanist beliefs – rather than having to shoehorn themselves into some other template that society is forcing on them. It represents that very basic freedom and manifestation of belief that is a fundamental human right.
I find it so extraordinary that while humanist marriages are legally recognised in Scotland and Northern Ireland, they’re not in England and Wales. This case is about six brave couples who dearly and desperately want their weddings to be perfect and to manifest and reflect their deeply held humanist beliefs. My love and support goes out to them.
Figures show that (non-legally recognised) humanist wedding ceremonies in England and Wales have increased by a massive 266% over the last decade, bucking the trend of a decline in other types of marriage.
Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said:
The time for asking to be accommodated is over. The Courts are now the only appropriate and realistic method of moving this issue on. Following a successful case in Northern Ireland momentum is on our side and I believe couples who look forward to a legally recognised humanist ceremony should take great heart and hope from that.
Find out more about Humanists UK’s campaign here: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/
(Main image: Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley are amongst the claimants)