Humanists in England and Wales call for legal humanist weddings as Scottish Parliament officially recognises humanist ceremonies for marriage provision in law

Thousands of humanists in England and Wales have been calling on the Government to give legal recognition to humanist weddings this Valentine’s Day, while in Scotland the Scottish Parliament has officially recognised Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) as the first non-religious organisation with a permanent right in law to conduct legal marriages under the 1977 Marriage Act.

Humanist weddings were first recognised in Scotland eleven years ago. Since then, the popularity of humanist weddings has skyrocketed, with more than 4,200 humanist ceremonies taking place in 2015 alone. In England and Wales, humanist wedding ceremonies continue to have no legal recognition despite the British Humanist Association (BHA) taking more  weddings each year than most recognised religious organisations.The BHA conducts over 1000 humanist weddings a year, with most couples then having a simple signing at the register office in order become legally married. A YouGov survey in 2016 found that roughly 15 million Brits had been to a humanist ceremony.

Powers secured in the Marriage Act 2013 allow the UK Government to give legal recognition to humanist weddings in England and Wales should it choose to. However, following a public consultation which showed overwhelming support for legalisation and a subsequent Law Commission review, there has been no action. Over the past few months thousands of humanists from across England and Wales have written to their MPs calling for humanist weddings to be given legal recognition after years of inaction from the Government.

Isabel Russo, Head of Ceremonies at the BHA, commented ‘The Scottish Parliament should be commended for responding to the growing numbers of humanists across the UK and recognising their equal right to be married  in accordance with their deepest held values and beliefs. The popularity of humanist marriages is undeniable: humanist weddings are now the most popular form of belief-based marriage on offer in Scotland and they continue to surge in popularity in England and Wales. Humanist Society Scotland becoming the first ever non-religious body prescribed in law to conduct marriages is further testament to the high standards of celebrants trained accredited by longstanding humanist organisations.

‘Non-religious couples have been badly let down in England and Wales in having to have separate humanist and then civil ceremonies, and many have started making the trip over to Scotland specifically in order to have a legal humanist wedding. This Valentine’s Day, when millions across the UK will be popping the question and hoping for a perfect wedding that reflects their love and commitment, we would urge the Lord Chancellor to act decisively and at last give humanist weddings in England and Wales the recognition they deserve, so that humanist couples across Britain can enjoy the same rights afforded to religious couples.’’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 0773 843 5059.

Read more about the BHA campaign on marriage reform https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

About the change in Scots law

The new regulation has been made using a Scottish Statutory Instrument (SSI) under section 8(1)(a)(ii) and (1B)(a)(i) of the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977(1) and section 94A(1)(a)(i) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004(2) (Amendment of the Civil Partnership (Prescribed Bodies) (Scotland) Regulations 2016). The SSI is available to view online at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ssi/2016/427/contents/made

HSS will be the first body to be added to the list of prescribed bodies since 1977, and the first ever non-religious organisation. The other organisations prescribed since 1977 are: The Baptist Union of Scotland; The Congregational Union of Scotland; The Episcopal Church (etc.); The Free Church of Scotland; The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland; The Hebrew Congregation; The Methodist Church in Scotland; The Religious Society of Friends; The Roman Catholic Church; The Salvation Army; The Scottish Unitarian Association, and The United Free Church of Scotland. (Ministers of the Church of Scotland are entitled to conduct weddings without being a prescribed body).
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.