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‘Discrimination, plain and simple’: Liberty intervenes in support of Northern Ireland humanist marriage case

Laura Lacole and Eunan O’Kane, the claimants in the case.

The human rights charity Liberty has intervened in support of humanists Laura Lacole and Eunan O’Kane and their case to secure recognition for humanist marriages in Northern Ireland. Calling the lack of such recognition ‘discrimination, pure and simple’, Liberty’s intervention comes as a High Court ruling in favour of the couple is being challenged by the Northern Ireland Government and Attorney General at the Belfast Court of Appeal. Humanists UK and its section Northern Ireland Humanists, who have helped the couple bring the case, has welcomed the intervention.

Laura, a model and public speaker, and Eunan, a Leeds United and Republic of Ireland midfielder, initially took the case ahead of their marriage, scheduled for June. Earlier that month they won their case in the High Court, but a week later found themselves in the Court of Appeal as the Government challenged the victory. The Court of Appeal decided that Laura and Eunan could have their legal humanist wedding ceremony, but stayed the wider decision until a further hearing 11 September – leaving other couples having to wait to see if the same rights might be extended to them. Laura and Eunan got married on 22 June.

Liberty Director Martha Spurrier commented, ‘This is a case of discrimination, plain and simple. All this couple is asking for is the chance for humanists to express their beliefs on one of the most important days of their life. The High Court’s ruling was a landmark in rights protection – to take a step backwards would be a sad day for progress and fairness.’

Laura Lacole commented, ‘I’m very grateful to have the support of human rights group Liberty in our case for humanist marriages in Northern Ireland. They didn’t have to get involved, but in deciding to make a submission to court supporting our case of discrimination, it shines further light on the issue and adds weight to the cause.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We welcome Liberty’s decision to intervene in this case, and the recognition that the case is about ensuring the rights of humanists are upheld. That religious people are able to marry in a manner and time of their choosing, but humanists are not, is simply unfair. Laura and Eunan’s wedding was beautiful, and we simply don’t understand why the Northern Ireland state wants to stop other couples from being able to also have such beautiful, legal, humanist marriages.’

About the case

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values. Humanist weddings have been legally recognised as marriages in Scotland since 2005 and in Ireland since 2012, but to date couples in Northern Ireland, England, and Wales have been required to have an additional registry office ceremony to make their humanist wedding legally binding.

The case is being taken on human rights grounds, targeting the discriminatory law that has meant that religious people are able to have legal marriage ceremonies in line with their beliefs, but humanists have, until now, not been able to do likewise.

Legal recognition has already had a transformative effect on Scottish and Irish society. In Scotland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2005, and have risen in number from 85 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.

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:

Read the previous news item, on success at the High Court: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/06/09/success-couple-win-challenge-to-lack-of-legal-recognition-of-humanist-marriages-in-northern-ireland/

Read the news item on the appeal: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/06/19/first-legal-humanist-wedding-ceremony-in-northern-ireland-will-go-ahead-thursday/

Read more about Humanists UK’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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