The government has announced it will oppose giving legal recognition to humanist weddings in England and Wales when it is debated in the House of Commons next week.
Many hundreds of couples have humanist weddings in England and Wales each year but unlike in Scotland – where almost 3000 were conducted last year – they are not recognised as legal marriages.
An amendment to extend legal recognition to England and Wales has been tabled by MPs from all three main parties for discussion next week. An earlier version failed by only one vote at the Committee stage of the Bill. The new amendment has been changed to take into account the government objections voiced at the time and until yesterday it seemed that it might be supported by ministers, who have given no substantive reason for opposing a simple reform that they are on record as accepting in principle.
Isabel Russo, Head of Ceremonies at the British Humanist Association (BHA) expressed disappointment at the surprise government announcement:
‘It is baffling and very sad that the government has taken this decision. All they are doing is standing in the way of the many thousands of couples who want their legal marriage to be a ceremony built on their love for each other and their deepest beliefs, conducted by a celebrant who shares those beliefs, which gives the occasion a significance that many couples feel they cannot gain elsewhere. All the marriages I have conducted have been for couples whose commitment was made all the stronger by the fact that they could make it is a ceremony that reflected their deepest values. I would have hoped this was something which government would support.’
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, added:
‘This message from the Government is a complete surprise to us and contradicts much of what they have told us in the many weeks we have been engaging with them. The amendment to give legal recognition to humanist marriages is supported by MPs from all three main parties, is not at all controversial, meets a genuine public desire, and has a negative effect on absolutely no one in society. It is more strictly and narrowly worded than even existing marriage law in order to introduce humanist marriage alone, and can have no unintended consequences. We are still hopeful that it will be supported by MPs in spite of this government scare-mongering.’
The proposal to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales has been made as an amendment to the Marriage Bill currently going through Parliament by the Labour MPs Kate Green, Chris Bryant, and Kelvin Hopkins, the Liberal Democrat MPs Stephen Gilbert, Dr Julian Huppert, and Stephen Williams, and the Conservative MP Mike Weatherley. It will be discussed at the Report stage of the Bill, which is scheduled for 20 and 21 May.
For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0773 843 5059.
Humanist marriages have been legally recognised in Scotland since 2005 and now number nearly 3000.
Humanist marriages are legally recognised in Ireland, Norway, Iceland, and the province of Ontario among other countries.
As well as hundreds of marriages, the BHA conducts many thousands of funerals every year. All the ceremonies are conducted by trained and accredited celebrants subject to strict quality assurance processes and 97% of clients give these ceremonies feedback of 5/5.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.