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Humanist weddings in Wales banned during firebreak lockdown, while religious marriages can continue

The Welsh Government has told Wales Humanists that during the firebreak lockdown, which started on Friday evening and is due to run until 8 November, humanist weddings will not be allowed to continue. By contrast, religious and civil marriages are allowed to occur, with places of worship and registry offices able to stay open for them. Wales Humanists has expressed its frustration at the unequal nature of the decision, which flies in the face of the High Court ruling earlier this year that there is a human right to humanist weddings.

Are your humanist wedding plans affected by this? If so, then please email our Director of Community Services, Teddy Prout, at teddy@humanists.uk so we can advise you on the situation in light of when your wedding date is. We also encourage affected couples to speak to their celebrants.

The firebreak lockdown regulations ban people from leaving their homes or gathering with others, without a reasonable excuse. Reasonable excuses include to attend a legally recognised marriage, or a funeral, with guidance providing limits for attendance. But unlike religious and civil marriages, humanist weddings are not legally recognised, and there is no other reasonable excuse provided. The only way in which they can continue is where they happen over video calls with all the participants in their own home.

This stands in stark contrast to the situation in England, where the coronavirus regulations, alongside the provisions for legally recognised marriages, also allow people to gather for ‘an alternative wedding ceremony… based on a person’s faith or belief’. This is even true in the ‘very high’ tier 3 regulations. These regulations were made after the UK Government had previously limited humanist weddings in England to six, while others were allowed up to 15. But the subsequent outcry led it to reverse course, and allow up to 15 to attend humanist weddings as well. In part, the UK Government seemed to have accepted the human rights arguments mandating no difference of treatment.

At the time of the problems in England, the Welsh Government told Wales Humanists, ‘The First Minister has made clear that he will not make any changes without evidence of a public health problem arising from these events. Should we make any changes the FM will want to understand the equality impacts of such a change in the advice offered and we will consider the implications for humanists.’ But the new regulations were introduced without any prior consultation with Wales Humanists.

Responding to the restrictions, Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented:

‘We are bitterly disappointed to see the Welsh Government discriminate against humanists in this way, without any prior consultation, not least of all after having received assurances from them that suggested they wouldn’t do this. There is no clear rationale for this difference of treatment, not least of all given the High Court finding this summer that humanist weddings must be treated equally to religious marriages.

‘The UK Government has accepted the need to treat humanists equally, and so has made specific provision in even the tier 3 regulations to do just this. Why the Welsh Government couldn’t do the same is beyond us.’

Other forms of ceremony, including namings, Christenings, and bar and bat mitzvahs, are also banned during the firebreak lockdown. The Welsh Government has said it expects humanist weddings and namings to be able to resume after 8 November.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple. Humanists UK has provided these ceremonies for many decades.

In England and Wales, prior to the pandemic, over 1,000 couples a year were having a humanist wedding without legal recognition. They all must have a separate civil marriage – usually at a registrar’s office – for their marriage to be legally recognised, even though it is not what they want. Couples must go through formalities twice, leading to financial strain, and distress over the state failing to recognise their humanist wedding as their ‘real’ one.

Humanist marriages were legally recognised in Scotland in 2005, the Republic of Ireland in 2012, Northern Ireland in 2018, and Jersey in 2019, and they will gain legal recognition in Guernsey in 2021.

In the July humanist marriage legal case, the judge ruled that the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages means that ‘the present law gives rise to… discrimination’. She also ruled that, in light of that, the Secretary of State for Justice ‘cannot… simply sit on his hands’ and do nothing. However, she said, given that the Government is currently giving the matter consideration in the form of a review into marriage law by the Law Commission, the Government’s refusal to act immediately can be justified ‘at this time’ and concluded, ‘Although I may deprecate the delay that has occurred since 2015, I cannot ignore the fact that there is currently an on-going review of the law of marriage in this country.’ As a consequence, she declined to make a formal declaration that the Government is acting unlawfully at this time. The couples in this case are currently exploring a limited appeal of just the last part of that judgment.

Read about the latest coronavirus regulations in England.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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