Marriage laws

Same-sex Marriage
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We seek equal treatment for humanists and the religious in all official matters, including marriage law.  Similarly, we oppose discrimination against same-sex couples, where civil partnerships represent an unsatisfactory compromise.

People wishing to get married in England or Wales all have a choice if they wish of a register office ceremony, which by law must not be distinctive of any religion or belief, including Humanism. Only the religious have the additional option of a ceremony conducted according to their own religious beliefs. Although humanist celebrants conduct many weddings every year, these have no legal validity and have to be supplemented by a register office ceremony.

The Government in 2002 proposed extensive changes to marriage law in the context of a general reform of the law on the registration of births, marriages and deaths. The reforms ignored the need under the Human Rights Act for there to be no discrimination based on religion or belief, and the Government ignored repeated strongly argued representations from the BHA to this effect. The reforms were dropped when Parliament refused to accept them under a short-cut regulatory reform procedure.

Since then the Labour Government refused to accept our case that the law is plainly discriminatory and says it now has no intention of reforming the law. In Scotland similar representations by the Humanist Society of Scotland met with quick success and a means was found to allow humanist celebrants to conduct legally valid marriages.

The BHA has also raised objections to unfair competition from registrars conducting funerals and baby naming ceremonies.  They are encouraged by local authorities to offer these non-statutory services on a profit-making basis and often use their official position as registrars of births and deaths to market their ceremonies without any mention that there are alternative providers such as the BHA.

Numerous representations by the BHA on marriage and civil partnerships are accessible under“Marriage Laws Articles and Submissions”.

What can you do?

Email your MP explaining that the existing marriage laws discriminate against humanists, and asking him/her to raise the matter with Ministers. It would be particularly helpful if couples who have had a humanist wedding ceremony as well as a civil ceremony, or who are planning a humanist ceremony could write to their MPs to say how they felt they were or are being discriminated against.