The All Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) has today launched an inquiry into legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. The inquiry aims to examine the issues the Government might have to consider before extending legal recognition, in order ‘to assist Government in expediting the legal recognition of humanist marriages.’ The launch came as the APPHG met and heard from stakeholders across the UK and crown dependencies on progress towards legal recognition from around these isles.
The meeting, chaired by APPHG Chair Crispin Blunt MP, heard from Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) Chief Executive Gordon MacRae; States of Jersey Assembly Deputy Louise Doublet; Northern Ireland Humanists patron Laura Lacole; and Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson.
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.
In Scotland, humanist marriages have been legal since 2005, with almost 5,000 performed in 2016. Noting that HSS now performs more belief-based marriages than any other group in Scotland, including the Church of Scotland, Mr MacRae told the meeting that the introduction of humanist marriage has actually propped up the institution of marriage generally, slowing the decline that is being observed in the rest of the UK and elsewhere.
More recently, just this month, Jersey has also extended legal recognition. That followed on from four years of work by Deputy Doublet and Humanists UK. In her comments, Deputy Doublet explained that humanist marriage was initially rejected in Jersey, largely due to an insufficient appreciation of the demand and a lack of understanding about humanism itself. She noted that the campaign for legal recognition had succeeded in changing that, and hoped that this would serve as a platform for further progress on equality and human rights issues.
In Northern Ireland last year, model and public speaker Laura Lacole launched a legal case in order to secure recognition for her own wedding ceremony. That succeeded at the High Court, and she had her legal marriage to international footballer Eunan O’Kane in June; but the decision has been stayed, pending an appeal before the Court of Appeal. Ms Lacole expressed her frustration that there had been so much resistance to something that does no harm to anyone at all, and vowed to continue fighting to legal recognition should the latest appeal not go their way.
Finally, Mr Copson spoke about England and Wales, where in 2013 the Government was granted order-making powers by Parliament to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages without further legislation, but in the time since has not done so. Mr Copson stressed that the progress that had been made so far was cause for optimism, but that members of the APPHG would have to work hard in Parliament to finally deliver on that progress.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Today’s well-attended session of the APPHG saw the launch of a hugely important inquiry. We very much hope that the inquiry will be able to help the Government in considering the issues around legal recognition of humanist marriages, and if there are any justified concerns about introduction, then how those concerns might be mitigated.
‘We will be seeking the views of key stakeholders over the coming months.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0781 55 89 636.
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/