The British Humanist Association (BHA) has responded with shock and disappointment at reports today that Number 10 is blocking the legal recognition of humanist marriages because Lynton Crosby, David Cameron’s election guru, sees reform as a ‘fringe’ issue.
Giving legal recognition to humanist marriages had strong cross party support in both the House Commons and House of Lords having been discussed during the course of the Marriage Act passed last year. Since then, MPs and peers from all parties have continued for the past year to call for legal recognition. The public, in response to a recent government consultation, hugely supported legal recognition, and campaigners have pointed out that the huge growth in marriages in Scotland demonstrates very significant demand. However, The Sunday Times today reports a Government source as saying that, although Liberal Democrats remain in favour, the Prime Minister’s office has blocked the legal recognition that humanists were expecting at the end of this year.
Many couples will have their marriage plans ruined by this political action. Typical of the many couples affected, Robin Crosse, planning on getting married next year commented, ‘We were hoping to have a humanist marriage in next year, but if this news is true then we will have to rethink our plans. I don’t understand why a government that says it wants to support marriage would do something like this.’
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘This is astonishing news and a huge shock for the many thousands of couples who were working with us for this fair and modest reform. The fact that reform is being denied for purely political reasons will make the disappointment even more acute. No doubt the Government’s eventual formal report will give other reasons but we will now be able to see them for what they will be – cover for this political decision.
‘If fact, we already knew that the only reasons that legal recognition could be denied would be political. Open debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords demonstrated that there was no sound reason whatsoever for legal recognition to be denied and it is shameful that Number 10 would block the wish of thousands of couples to start their married life in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. Giving legal recognition to humanist marriages is a simple measure that adversely affects no one, has huge popular and political support, and would increase the number of people getting married each year.
‘Under this government, Scientologists have been added to the list of religions that can perform legal marriages, joining Spiritualists, the Aetherius Society (which believes in aliens and that the Earth is a goddess), and dozens of other religions. To describe the legal recognition of humanist marriages as a “fringe” issue insults the many couples – much larger in number than these many small religious groups – whose planned marriages next year will not be able to go ahead if Number 10 blocks this change.’
For further comment or information, please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0773 843 5059.
A motion has been tabled in the House of Commons calling on the Government to proceed swiftly to giving legal recognition within this Parliament. It has already been signed by MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green, Conservative, and even the SNP, making a rare venture into English and Welsh matters. Following over 2000 letters being sent from constituents, many more MPs have been lobbying Government directly to urge them to act now.
This follows a debate in the House of Lords in which peers from the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour benches, as well as crossbenchers, also called on Government to get regulations through before the election. Peers urging this included Baroness Butler-Sloss, former Lord Justice of Appeals, who lambasted the Government’s slow response to this issue in the House of Lords and said, “I cannot for one moment understand why we are not just getting on with it.”
Other Peers expressing their support included Lord Harrison and Baroness Meacher, who highlighted how humanist marriage would merely extend the existing legal provisions awarded to Jewish and Quaker weddings to non-religious groups like the British Humanist Association, and Lord Garel-Jones who reiterated “that there is now overwhelming evidence that humanist marriages fulfil the Government’s new families test and that they support strong and stable marriages.” From the Opposition front bench Baroness Thornton noted the “overwhelming support” humanist marriage had in both Houses of Parliament when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 passed, and that Ministers assured us humanist marriage could be introduced well before the next election.
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.