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Same-sex marriages

We have long campaigned for a reform of marriage laws – in order to gain legal recognition for both same-sex and humanist marriage ceremonies. Same-sex marriages are legal throughout the UK and crown dependencies, except in Northern Ireland.

Humanist celebrants in the UK have performed same-sex wedding ceremonies for decades, ever since the invention of humanist ceremonies and long before they came with any legal recognition. We were therefore delighted to play a strong part in the campaign to legalise first same-sex civil partnerships and then same-sex marriages in England, Wales, and Scotland, and are currently working to the same end in Northern Ireland. In July 2019, the UK Parliament passed an Act to bring about legal same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland from early 2020, and we lobbied MPs and peers in support of this change.

In depth

In relation to same-sex couples, we want marriage law to be reformed so that two men or two women enjoy the same access to marriage as a man and a woman. In England, Scotland, and Wales this is now possible, but it remains unlawful in Northern Ireland. We also supported the legalisation of same-sex civil partnerships across the UK.

At present, efforts to secure legal recognition of humanist marriages are focused on ongoing court cases, and the UK Parliament. This is because the Northern Ireland Assembly has not sat since early 2017, and as far as our international obligations are concerned, human rights issues are for the UK Government to resolve.

What we’re doing

We campaigned hard in favour of the legalisation of same-sex marriage in England and Wales, and were a founder member of the Coalition for Equal Marriage. Thousands of members and supporters wrote to their MPs in support of legalisation, and many members of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group participated in ensuring its passage. We also campaigned for legalisation in Scotland, which occurred in 2014.

With legalisation having occurred throughout Great Britain, we began working to see similar progress in Northern Ireland. In 2015, most MLAs voted in favour of such a change, but it was blocked by the DUP on the spurious grounds that it would threaten devolution. However, with devolution suspended from early 2017, attention turned to lobbying Westminster for the change to be made. Through the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), we supported a number of private members’ bills. We also supported a 2018 Act that now means the UK Government must report regularly to the House of Commons on the matter.

Finally, in July 2019, the UK Parliament passed an Act that will bring about legal recognition of same-sex marriages in Northern Ireland from early 2020, assuming the Northern Ireland Assembly doesn’t resume sitting by 21 October. We lobbied hard in favour of this change, with many APPHG members speaking and voting in favour of the change. We are now working in support of implementation of the new legislation.

Get involved

Write to your MP explaining that the existing Northern Ireland marriage laws discriminate against same-sex couples, and asking them to raise the matter with ministers. Please copy any replies you get to Humanists UK.

You could consider training as a Humanists UK-accredited wedding celebrant. More details can be found on the Humanist Ceremonies website.

You can support Humanists UK by becoming a member. That helps in itself, and you can help even more by supporting our campaigns in the ways suggested above. But campaigns also cost money – quite a lot of money – and we also need financial support. You can make a donation to Humanists UK.

How to get a humanist wedding

Wouldn’t it be great to start your married life with a ceremony that really means something? To tell your friends and family what your relationship means to you, and why you are choosing to get married?

Many of us who aren’t religious are looking for a wedding that is more flexible and personal than a civil or register office ceremony.

A humanist, non-religious wedding ceremony gives you the opportunity to marry where you want, when you want and how you want. They’re available throughout the UK and crown dependencies (although humanist weddings cannot confer legal recognition in England, Wales, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man, and same-sex weddings cannot confer legal recognition in Northern Ireland – all of which we are campaigning to change). You can find out more on the Humanist Ceremonies website.

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