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New stats reveal: only legalising humanist marriages will give same-sex couples a meaningful choice of type of marriage ceremony

The Office of National Statistics has published new statistics on the number of marriages, both same- and opposite-sex, which occurred in England and Wales in 2014, the first year that same-sex marriages were legally recognised. The statistics have revealed that just 23 couples out of the 4,850 who had same-sex marriages, or just 0.47%, opted to have religious same-sex marriages. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which performs a very high number of same-sex wedding ceremonies and has been doing so for over five decades, has responded by saying that the Government should recognise that only by extending legal recognition to humanist ceremonies will same-sex couples be offered a meaningful choice of type of marriage.

Humanist wedding ceremonies were legally recognised in Scotland in 2005, where they have since surged in popularity since, overtaking Church of Scotland ceremonies in 2015 to become the most popular type of belief-based ceremony. 14.4% of legal marriage ceremonies in Scotland are now humanist, compared to 13.7% being done by the Church of Scotland.

In England and Wales humanist ceremonies have also surged in number in recent years, but they are not legally recognised so lag behind Scotland in terms of popularity. Couples wishing to have a humanist ceremony must presently also visit the register office, at the expense of additional time and cost. This is in spite of the fact that polling shows humanist ceremonies are hugely popular with the general public.

During the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act through Parliament, the BHA secured a section that gives the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages without requiring a new Act of Parliament to be passed. It subsequently consulted on the matter and in 2014 found 95% of respondents in favour. But since then the Government has still not chosen to use its power.

More generally the new England and Wales statistics showed that religious marriages continued to decline as a proportion of legal marriages. 27.5% of opposite-sex marriages in 2014 were religious, down from 28.5% in 2013 and 30.1% in 2012.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The Government extending legal recognition to humanist weddings would be popular, easy to do, and provide non-religious couples with the same choice as to how to get married as is already afforded to religious couples. And what is more, these new statistics reveal that that choice would be particularly valued by same-sex couples, who at present overwhelmingly feel they have no choice of type of marriage at all.

‘The Government is strongly committed to strengthening marriage as an institution. We urge it to give humanist marriages legal recognition as this is the best move it can now make to do that.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read the new marriage statistics: https://www.ons.gov.uk/releases/marriagesinenglandandwalesprovisional2014

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns around marriage laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

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.

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