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Friday hearing in Northern Ireland couple’s case for legal humanist marriage

Eunan and Laura.

On Friday, humanists Laura Lacole and Eunan O’Kane are taking their case to Belfast’s High Court, in order to secure legal recognition for their humanist wedding. The case, backed by Humanists UK and its section Northern Ireland Humanists, seeks to change the current unjust situation where religious people are able to have legally recognised marriage ceremonies in line with their beliefs, but humanists are not.

As things stand, any couple in Northern Ireland wishing to have a legally recognised marriage ceremony can only choose a religious wedding or a civil ceremony. Anyone wishing to have a humanist wedding, which can be fully customised to match the couple’s deepest held personal beliefs, must also have a separate civil registration.

This is also the case in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or the Republic of Ireland. In Scotland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2005, and have proven hugely popular since – rising in number from 80 in the first year to over 4,300 in 2015, overtaking the Church of Scotland in the process. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2015 around six percent of legal marriages were humanist, more than three times as many as there were (Protestant) Church of Ireland marriages.

The case is being taken on human rights grounds, seeking to challenge the injustice that means religious ceremonies are recognised while humanist ones are not. Model Laura and Leeds United/Republic of Ireland midfielder Eunan are hoping to change that ahead of their wedding in June.

Speaking ahead of the ceremony, Laura commented, ‘Eunan and I are both humanists, so we want to have an intimate marriage ceremony which is encompassing of who we are as individuals, the values we hold, how we go about life, and our viewpoint on life. We want it to be personal to us and the love we have for each other. So, of course not being able to have legal recognition for that ceremony is an issue for us, and we want to do something about that for ourselves and other people in our position. That is why we are taking this case.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson added, ‘Religious people currently have the legal right to marry in a ceremony that reflects their most fundamental views of the world, but humanists cannot do likewise: they are denied legal recognition for a bespoke personalised ceremony that reflects the values of the couple involved, that they share with the celebrant, and that is built around them. That is why there is a need for legal recognition to be extended to humanist marriages, so that couples can enjoy such a wonderful start to married life together, free from discrimination while doing so.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 0781 55 89 636, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on boyd.sleator@nihumanists.org or on 07470 395090.

Press are free to use images made available by the couple:

Laura Lacole is also available for interviews, which can be arranged through Richy.

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

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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