The Labour Party has pledged to give legal recognition to humanist marriages if returned to power next year. The announcement was made as the Government published its report which denies legal recognition, in defiance of both Liberal Democrat party policy for reform and a public consultation which – it was today revealed – showed over 90% of the public to be in favour. Earlier this week it was revealed by the Sunday Times that Number 10 was blocking the proposals for purely political reasons, citing it as a ‘fringe issue’ that would distract from Conservative electioneering.
The government report published today goes against a public consultation which elicited overwhelming support for the legal recognition, and has rejected the proposal rehashing spurious reasons which were dealt with last year when amendments were debated in the Lords and Commons last year during the passage of the Marriage Act.
BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘It’s remarkable that the Government would go to such extraordinary lengths to stop two people expressing their love and contracting their marriage in the way they choose. Couples of every religion from Sikhs to scientologists, from Anglicans to Jews, from Quakers to Mormons, have the right to have a legal marriage according to their deepest beliefs. Even the Aetherius Society, which believes that there are aliens on the moon, is able to conduct legal marriages. What priests and politicians have against humanists enjoying the same right is baffling.
‘Every single objection – the few that there were – was answered in both Parliament and in the public consultation on this issue – the same objections which are cited in the report published today. The overwhelming majority of respondents to the public consultation, a majority of the British people’s elected representatives, and the majority of people in England and Wales will all unite in opposing this shameful government decision. The many thousands of couples denied the marriage of their choice will feel it all the more.
‘Today is a very sad day for fairness, freedom of belief, and freedom of choice. However we are delighted that the Labour party and others have made such a strong commitment to legalise humanist marriage next year if in power and the thousands of couples who responded to the consultation and wrote to their own MPs will also be heartened by this news.
‘Every ostensible argument given by the Government today was either comprehensively demolished in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, or confirmed as irrelevant by civil servants or ministers we met with since. As we know from the leak to the Sunday Times last week, this populat measure has been blocked for purely political reasons.’
Labour Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Baroness (Glenys) Thornton said, ‘There was widespread support for humanist marriage across Parliament during the passage of Equal Marriage and across the country. Humanist marriages have been legally recognised in Scotland for ten years now and the sky hasn’t fallen in, in fact more people are getting married. This is yet another example of the Lib Dems saying they support something and then doing the opposite – despite having the Minister responsible in Government.
‘The Labour Party supports the legal recognition of humanist marriages and a Labour Government will act to support the thousands of couples who wish to marry with a humanist celebration.’
Jo Swinson, Liberal Democrat Equalities Minister, said: ‘Liberal Democrats firmly believe couples should be able to celebrate their marriage in the way they want to, and that should include humanist celebrations. We have made this case in government and will continue to back full legal recognition of humanist marriages in the next Parliament.’
Natalie Bennett, the Green Party leader, said: ‘Clearly the law should allow those who wish to have a humanist marriage ceremony the same rights as couples who want a religious ceremony with a celebrant of their choice. The Green Party is committed to ending the current discrimination through legislation as soon as possible.’
Robin Crosse, planning on getting married next year, commented, ‘We were hoping to have a humanist marriage in next year, but now 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.’
Speaking earlier this week, Tamsin Lancashire-Ball, 31, a teacher, and her husband, Darren, 37, a graphic designer, who had a humanist wedding last year gave their support for reform, saying, ‘We felt it would be quite hypocritical [to have a church wedding] when it’s not really what we believe in. Making a strong promise to something we don’t believe in is not a good way to start a marriage.’
Sam Whitney, 31, a consultant technician at a garage, also planning on marrying next summer, said: ‘While register office weddings serve their purpose and might be suitable for some people, I don’t feel that we could make it personal to us. We would like a wedding that reflects our beliefs and what we stand for. Surely the day that binds us together should be a celebration of everything that we share as a couple?’
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.