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Push for legal humanist marriages gets more support in Parliament

Baroness Thornton called for legal humanist marriage in the House of Lords today

The push to give legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales gained further support in Parliament today, after peers called on the UK Government to implement reforms around legal humanist marriages.

In a discussion on the second reading of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc) Bill in the House of Lords today, Labour frontbenchers Baroness Thornton and Lord Collins and Labour peer Lord Cashman, who are all members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, spoke in favour of legal recognition of humanist marriages.

In her speech, Labour frontbencher Baroness Thornton said the issue of humanist marriage was one of ‘inequality,’ and accused the Government of kicking the issue into the long grass. She said: ‘It’s been five years since Parliament said that humanist weddings should be made official and should take place,’ and that denying thousands of people a legal humanist marriage  was ‘unequal’ and ‘unfair’. She closed her address by calling on the Government to immediately resolve it.

Lord Collins of Highbury said: ‘In 2014, the Government held a consultation which revealed that over 90% of respondents were in favour of legally recognised humanist marriages. In 2015, the Law Commission reported that failing to grant humanists the same rights as religious people in marriage was fundamentally unfair. In June 2018, the Northern Irish Court of Appeal ruled that there is a human right to humanist marriage. I therefore hope that in her response today the Minister will say that, without any further prompting or delay, she will use the UK Government’s existing powers to legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales. I hope that will happen as soon as is practicable.’ Lord Cashman echoed his support for Lord Collins’ comments.

This latest pressure follows on from a debate in Parliament in November when peers from all sides called for legal humanist marriages. Humanists UK had briefed peers in the lead up to the debate.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said: ‘We welcome these latest calls from peers who recognise this as a burning issue of inequality. There is growing pressure from within Parliament to address our unjust marriage laws which are denying people in England and Wales their rights to have a humanist marriage.’

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have non-legal humanist wedding ceremonies, but such ceremonies cannot at present carry legal recognition, without the couple also going through the time and expense of having a civil marriage as well.

Humanists UK believes this is unfair, and discriminatory, since religious marriages are given legal recognition. But the fact that there is now recognition in Ireland, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Jersey, and ongoing proposals in Guernsey, surely means that the prospects of legal recognition in England and Wales, too, should become much more likely. Since 2013 humanist marriages have been on the statute books in England and Wales, but the UK Government hasn’t chosen to enact the relevant statute.

NOTES:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK press manager Casey-Ann Seaniger at casey@humanism.org.uk or phone 020 7324 3078 or 07 393344293.

Read our most recent news item on humanist marriage here: https://humanism.org.uk/2018/11/22/peers-from-all-sides-call-for-legal-humanist-marriages-in-england-and-wales/

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.

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