The Government has announced that the Law Commission has already begun an initial scoping exercise into marriage law in England and Wales, with specific attention paid to the decision over whether to give legal recognition to humanist weddings. The Commission is due to report on the exercise by December 2015.
The announcement came in response to a question from Baroness Glenys Thornton, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, who asked the Government whether it had plans to legalise humanist marriage using the order-making powers provided by the 2013 Marriage Act.
The legalisation of humanist marriages was highly anticipated in 2014 after a lengthy consultation process found overwhelming support for giving legal recognition to humanist ceremonies, with 95% of respondents voicing firm support for a change in the law. However, as the Government spokesman explained in the Lords today, unknown ‘key stakeholders’ did not support the change, prompting the Department of Justice to defer the decision until after a Law Commission review.
Peers from both sides of the House, both religious and non-religious, urged Government to act quickly to legalise humanist marriage. When Government cited concerns about a premise-based English marriage law, peers were quick to point out that exemptions already exist in law to allow Jewish and Quaker marriages within that same system.
Peers also cited the popularity of humanist marriages in Scotland since legalisation in 2005. In Scotland there are more humanist marriages each year than there are Catholic weddings, and Humanist Society Scotland weddings are expected to exceed those of the Church of Scotland in 2015. The House was also reminded of broad Parliamentary support for legal humanist marriages when the Marriage Act was originally debated in 2013.
British Humanist Association Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The Government’s decision to delay the legalisation of humanist marriage in 2014 was a very distressing one for many couples, but now it has a golden opportunity to act in the interests of equality and fairness.
‘Couples who are religious can already have a legal marriage ceremony which embodies their beliefs and values and which is conducted by someone who shares their beliefs. All humanists are asking for is to be afforded that same basic right.’
For further comment or information contact BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07534 248596.
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.