BHA calls for inquiry into discriminatory marriage law in England and Wales

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has today made a submission to the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR), requesting an inquiry in to marriage law in England and Wales and, specifically, the continuing discrimination against humanists.

Unlike in Scotland, humanist weddings in England and Wales are not legally recognised. In its submission, the BHA sets out the case, based on the Human Rights Act 1998, for recognising humanist weddings in English and Welsh law.

Tana Wollen, BHA Head of Ceremonies, said, ‘Many non-religious couples want to form their lifelong commitment to each other based on firmly-held, shared moral principles. They want to be able to celebrate that commitment publicly with family and friends, in a way that holds meaning and significance for them, and in a place of their choice.  For non-religious couples, a ceremony in a religious place of worship is obviously unsuitable and marriages conducted by local authority register officers are limited in all sorts of ways: there are limits on what can be said, on how the ceremony can be arranged and the venue has to be licensed.

‘Humanist wedding ceremonies have legal status in Scotland, Norway and Australia – but not in England or Wales. Nevertheless, in 2008 celebrants trained and accredited by the British Humanist Association conducted humanist weddings for hundreds of couples in England and Wales. These couples went out of their way to have a humanist wedding ceremony in addition to the obligatory legal formality in a register office.  Compare this with the 1025 humanist weddings which were conducted in Scotland in the same year – all with legal status.  The Humanist Society of Scotland estimates that at least 10% of the humanist weddings its approved celebrants conduct there are actually for couples from England and Wales who simply want a single ceremony that will give their declared commitment full legal status. Why should couples be able to have a legal humanist wedding ceremony in Scotland but not in England or Wales? Surely, in this day and age, couples who wish to celebrate their commitment to each other in such a way should meet with no lawful impediment anywhere?’

Notes

Read more about the BHA’s campaign for equal treatment for humanists and the religious in all official matters, including marriage law.

Read more about Humanist Ceremonies.

For several decades the BHA has run a ceremonies service. We train and organise celebrants to conduct ceremonies to mark ‘rites of passage’ – births, marriages and funerals and other significant occasions. Every humanist ceremony is prepared individually to meet the wishes and needs of the families, couples and individuals concerned.