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Rehman Chishti MP to introduce Humanist Marriage Bill in Commons

Hester and Joe’s humanist wedding. Photo credit Duncan McCall Photography.

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, who was until last month the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, is introducing a Bill to the House of Commons today to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, with cross-party backing.

The Marriage (Authorised Belief Organisations) Bill, if it becomes law, would extend legal recognition to humanist marriages conducted by Humanists UK celebrants within three months of its passage. The Bill is being sponsored by fellow Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, Labour MPs Angela Eagle, Steve McCabe, Jeff Smith, and Rachel Hopkins, and Lib Dem MPs Wera Hobhouse and Daisy Cooper.

Rehman Chishti, MP for Gillingham and Rainham, commented: ‘The lack of legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales is discrimination, pure and simple. This matter has been under review for some seven years now, and that’s more than long enough. My Bill would bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages within three months of its passage, thus enabling the many who want a legally recognised humanist marriage to be able to have one now. It would not prevent further changes to the law, after the completion of the present Law Commission review, but would remedy the present discrimination.’

Crispin Blunt, Conservative MP for Reigate and Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, commented: ‘The fact that the recently departed Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief has chosen to bring this Bill before the Commons should send a very strong message to the Government: the lack of legal recognition of humanist marriages is one of the most serious forms of belief-based discrimination in the UK today. Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland have all long-since extended such recognition. What is stopping the UK Government from doing the same?’

In the recent High Court case on humanist marriage, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ahmed Shaheed, provided evidence saying that the lack of legal recognition in England and Wales is unlawful. He also commented: ‘It is increasingly unusual internationally for liberal democracies to not give legal recognition to humanist marriages.’ The only general exception is if they follow a French-style system of not allowing religious marriages either.

Rehman Chishti MP with Andrew Copson.

Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway, who were two of the claimants in the case, commented: ‘We’re planning to have a humanist wedding in September next year, and we very much hope humanist marriages are legally recognised by then. We welcome this Bill and urge the Government to support it becoming law.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We are delighted that Rehman Chishti has chosen to bring forward this Bill. Extending legal recognition to humanist marriages would be fair, it would be popular, it would be good for marriage, and good for the economy. We urge the Government to support it.’

More about humanist weddings

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.

Context of the Bill

The Bill is being introduced following a High Court decision in July that the long-running failure to provide for legally recognised humanist marriages – which have been the subject of three reviews over the last seven years – 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.

That failure also recently caused problems in terms of how humanist weddings are treated under the coronavirus regulations: in September the Government inadvertently limited attendance at humanist weddings in England to six, while legally recognised marriages could have 15. However, in the latest coronavirus regulations last week, the Government made specific provision for 15 people to attend humanist weddings – the first time there have been provisions in English law to provide for humanist weddings.

Humanist marriages are currently being reviewed as part of a wholescale Law Commission review of marriage law. However, it follows on from two previous Government reviews into the matter spanning back to the 2013 Marriage Act. And on its current schedule, if this review is to result in any change in the law at all, it might only be expected to do so by 2023. Given the ongoing discrimination, humanists have been pushing for interim reform, to ensure that the 1,000 couples a year that already have a humanist wedding do not miss out, and to safeguard against a potential failure of the wholescale review to result in legislation. That is what Rehman Chishti hopes his Bill will achieve.

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.

Read the draft Bill and explanatory notes.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

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.

Government provides specifically for humanist weddings in latest coronavirus regulations

In the latest coronavirus regulations, being debated in the UK Parliament today and coming into force in England tomorrow, the Government has made specific provision for 15 people to attend humanist weddings – the same number as can attend religious and civil marriages. Humanists UK has welcomed the move.

When the previous set of regulations were published on 24 September, Humanists UK was alarmed to discover that there was no provision for humanist weddings, meaning that they would default to the ‘rule of six’. However, after extensive pressure from parliamentarians and others, the Government reversed course, and on 29 September declared that up to 15 could attend humanist weddings after all. It did this through reinterpretation of existing rules to classify humanist weddings as ‘wedding receptions’, and guidance updated to reflect that interpretation – even though humanist weddings are not wedding receptions, in the everyday understanding of the term.

Now, in the new regulations, the Government has made specific provisions for humanist weddings. It has allowed up to 15 to attend a wedding if it is for the purposes of a legally recognised religious or civil marriage, or ‘an alternative wedding ceremony’, which is defined as ‘a ceremony based on a person’s faith or belief’. Humanism is classified as a ‘belief’ in the eyes of the law. These provisions appear in the regulations for all three tiers of alert level – medium, high, and very high. Separate provision is made for up to 15 to attend wedding receptions, but only for the medium and high alert levels.

Welcoming the changes, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We are delighted that the Government has made specific provision for humanist weddings to continue with up to 15 in attendance. We look forward to continuing to work with ministers and officials on coronavirus policy as it develops.’

In July, six couples took a legal case to the High Court over legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. In that case, the judge ruled that the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages means that ‘the present law gives rise to… discrimination’. The fact that the coronavirus regulations now provide for humanist weddings in such a specific way are in part a recognition of the human rights protections that humanist weddings now enjoy.

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.

Read Humanists UK’s previous statement on humanist weddings and coronavirus regulations.

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.

The Law Commission review follows on from a number of previous Government reviews into the matter spanning back to the 2013 Marriage Act. On its current schedule, if it is to result in any change in the law at all, it might only be expected to do so by 2023.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

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.

Government will allow up to 15 to attend humanist weddings

On Monday morning Humanists UK published a statement outlining that new coronavirus regulations that came into force in England that day provided for religious and civil marriages to have up to 15 gathered in attendance, but made no such provision for humanist weddings. Instead, associated guidance specified that they ‘must be limited to 6 attendees’.

Today, the Government has stated its interpretation of the law is that couples are ‘entitled lawfully to have a humanist wedding ceremony (and reception) with up to 15 people present’ and that it ‘intends to revise its guidance accordingly.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We very much welcome this statement from the Government and look forward to continuing our work with them to make sure that everyone is treated equally under these frequently changing laws, which we hope in their next iteration will make these issues clearer.’

Meanwhile, Welsh Government officials told Humanists UK:

‘We have not made any changes to our position on solemnisation ceremonies which means any number can attend up to the capacity of the “approved premise”. Nor have we made any changes on wedding parties and the 30 people limit. As you know this means humanist weddings can also take place, indoors or outdoors, in any “open” premise in Wales.

‘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.’

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.

Read yesterday’s statement.

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 more about our work on humanist marriages.

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.

Humanist wedding photo courtesy of Nikki van der Molen.

New coronavirus law limits humanist weddings to six, when others can have 15

Humanist weddingNew coronavirus regulations coming into force in England today provide for religious and civil marriages to have up to 15 gathered in attendance, but make no such provision for humanist weddings. Instead it is specified that they ‘must be limited to 6 attendees’. This is in contrast to the previous regulations, which allowed 30 at all types of wedding. Since the problem came to light on Thursday, Humanists UK has been working with Government officials to fix the problem, but unfortunately to no avail. Today Humanists UK has expressed serious frustration at the ‘bewildering, sudden’ new discrepancy being introduced without consultation, and has called for the Government to change the provisions to make them equal for all.

Are your humanist wedding plans affected by this? If so, then please email our Director of Community Services Teddy Prout on 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 problems have arisen in large part because of the Government’s persistent failure over the last seven years (and in stark contrast to all other governments in the UK and in Ireland) to extend legal recognition to humanist weddings. Up to now, that failure has not led to further complications under the coronavirus regulations, because they provided for up to 30 not just for legally recognised marriages, but also for ‘significant event gatherings… to mark or celebrate a significant milestone in a person’s life, according to their religion or belief’. Humanists UK has enjoyed a good relationship working with relevant government officials on coronavirus regulations since March. However, the new regulations, which were made last week just hours after the new rules were announced, unexpectedly withdrew the ‘significant event gatherings’ provision, instead only allowing up to 15 at legally recognised marriages. That includes religious marriages, but as it doesn’t include humanist weddings, they consequently default to the general limit of six.

Humanists UK staff have been attempting to address the problems with government officials since the regulations were first made public on Thursday. But as of today, when the new law comes into force, no progress has been made in fixing them.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘This outrageous and unexpected situation is open-and-shut discrimination that the Government should urgently put right. There is certainly no rationale for allowing religious weddings for fifteen people whilst saying that humanist weddings “must be limited to six”. Everyone should be treated equally.

‘Since March we’ve worked closely with the Government to ensure that humanist ceremonies have been treated equally to religious ceremonies, and until now that work has been successful. But this latest bewildering change in law was introduced suddenly without consultation.

‘We do not at present face this problem in Wales, where the law treats religious people and humanists equally, and we do not face it in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where humanist weddings are legally recognised. We should not face it in England either.’

Jack Ford and Catherine Hard are due to have their humanist wedding in Surrey on 3 October. Today they said: ‘We want a humanist wedding because it reflects who we are as a couple, including our own beliefs and values, in a way that no other ceremony can. We are hugely disappointed by this move by the Government, which discriminates against us as humanists, and hope that urgent steps can be taken to resolve the situation before our special day.’

In July, six couples took a legal case to the High Court over legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. In that case, the judge ruled that the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages means that ‘the present law gives rise to… discrimination’, but instead deferred to the ongoing Law Commission review as meaning the Government should have more time to fix the matter. The couples in this case are currently exploring a limited appeal to that conclusion. That review follows on from a number of previous Government reviews into the matter spanning back to the 2013 Marriage Act. On its current schedule, if it is to result in any change in the law at all, it might only be expected to do so by 2023.

Mr Copson continued: ‘Today’s discrimination is just another reason why the UK Government should have brought about legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales long ago. The Government has been reviewing legal recognition for some seven years now, and on its current schedule it will take at least another three. If it had instead extended recognition by now, as we have repeatedly asked for, then humanist couples would not now be facing today’s additional discrimination. In addition to solving this new problem, the Government should also provide interim reform for the legal recognition of humanist weddings more generally, to make sure this situation never occurs again.’

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 precisely what has changed in the coronavirus regulations to cause this problem.

Read more about the legal case on humanist marriage.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

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.

Humanist wedding photo courtesy of Jackson & Co Photography.

High Court rules humanist marriage recognition failure is ‘discriminatory’, but stops short of formal breach due to ongoing review

Laura and Erica’s humanist wedding by Simon Hutchinson.

Judgment has been given at the High Court today in a case brought by six couples wanting legally recognised humanist marriages in England and Wales. The couples were seeking a declaration that the UK Government’s refusal to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales was a breach of their human rights, which must be remedied.

High Court judge Mrs Justice Eady DBE 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.

In the court hearing, the Government had argued that the couples had no right to humanist marriages, on the spurious basis that humanist marriages are not sufficiently connected to humanism to merit legal protection. At the same time, they also argued that English law already provides for humanist marriages by way of civil marriage. But in her decision the judge rejected these arguments, saying that there is an intimate link between couples’ beliefs and their choice of a humanist ceremony, reasoning, ‘in particular, in the way in which couples prepare for their wedding with their celebrant, in the statements made during the ceremony and in the emphasis on individual freedom of choice.’

The judge said that attention must now turn to the Government’s promised review of marriage law as the way that this discrimination must be addressed. The Government said in court that a consultation would be published in early September by the Law Commission.

Humanists UK has welcomed the court making clear that the failure to provide legal recognition of humanist marriages cannot be justified other than by saying that there is a review to redress the issue, but expressed disappointment at the Government being given more time to resolve the issue, particularly given how long humanist couples have already had to wait for legal recognition.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said, ‘We’ve waited nineteen years for this reform since it was first considered by the Government in an ultimately abandoned review of marriage law, and seven years since Parliament gave the Government the power to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages without requiring a new Act. Thanks to this judgment, it is at least now not a matter of if humanist marriages will be legally recognised but when, and we await the Government’s response to the judgment and their proposals to remedy the discrimination that has been identified by the court. We hope they will act quickly to give justice to the thousands of couples annually whose weddings are being denied legal recognition.’

Humanists UK had hoped that the judge would have made a declaration of incompatibility in respect of the current state of marriage law, to mark the breach and vindicate the rights of the claimants. Such an outcome would not have interfered with the current law reform process but would have sent a stronger message to the Government about the need for change.

Mr Copson continued, ‘For the particular couples who brought this case, although it is gratifying that the judge has recognised that failure to change the law is “discrimination”, it will of course be a great disappointment that she has not found a breach and has, instead, said they must wait for the current Law Commission review to conclude to find out how the Government will remedy this. We know that the claimants will now be considering whether to appeal. If they decide to do so, we will support them.’

Please see the press release announcing the case for: information about the couples, including where they live, why they took the case, quotes, and photographs; what evidence was provided; more about humanist marriages; and endorsement quotes from politicians.

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar of Northern Ireland. Humanists UK has been supporting them in bringing the claim.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: ‘Notwithstanding our disappointment we are greatly encouraged by the contents of the Court ruling as the substantive argument has been won. Focus now shifts back to the Government to urgently provide assurances as to when legally recognised humanist marriage will come about. If these assurances are not forthcoming it is likely this legal journey will continue.’

Louth, Lincolnshire-based claimants Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson commented: ‘We are delighted the judge agreed that the law as it stands does discriminate against those with humanist beliefs who wish to be legally married within a humanist ceremony. However, we are bitterly disappointed that she has elected not to find in our favour, opting instead to defer to the ongoing Law Commission review of marriage, itself already long delayed. For us, this means significant further uncertainty and delay until there could be a possibility that we’ll be free to marry in the only way that would ever feel legitimate to us.’

Tonbridge, Kent-based claimants Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway commented: ‘We are disappointed by the result of the judgment and the fact that we still do not have the right to be legally married by our humanist celebrant. Despite this, we are very pleased that the judge has clearly acknowledged that the lack of legal recognition of humanist marriages is discrimination and we remain hopeful that this recognition will be reflected in a change to the marriage laws. We will be keeping everything crossed that this change will occur before our wedding next year.’

Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland-based claimants Finbar Graham and Jennifer McCalmont, who had their humanist ceremony in Devon, commented: ‘We are pleased that the judge has concluded that the failure to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages constitutes discrimination. This case has come too late for our wedding, but we still hope it spurs the Government and Law Commission to bring about such recognition for other couples as quickly as possible.’

St Helens-based claimants Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley commented: ‘It’s very encouraging to see the court recognise the clear discrimination that humanists face under the current system. While we are disappointed that the judgment hasn’t forced a change in law, we hope that this will encourage the Government to act as quickly as possible to make humanist weddings legal in line with other belief groups, so that humanist couples in the future don’t have to face the same challenges that we did.’

Bridgwater, Somerset-based claimants Capella Rew and Daniel Meakin commented: ‘It is disappointing the judge did not find in our favour. However, we are happy she recognises the current law is discriminatory towards couples wishing to have a legally binding humanist ceremony. While we have already had our ceremony, we hope this case draws the Government and the Law Commission’s attention to the importance of this issue and action is taken to bring about the much needed legal recognition for other humanist couples.’

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.

This summary should only be read alongside the full written judgment of the court and does not purport to be a complete exposition of the same.The case was taken under the prohibition on discrimination found in the Human Rights Act (Article 14), taken within the ambit of the freedom of religion or belief that the Act also protects (Article 9). The claimants argued that the fact that the law provides for legally recognised religious marriages means that it is discriminatory for it to not also provide for legally recognised humanist marriages. Religious groups (of all stripes) enjoy substantial autonomy and legal privileges that are, currently, not afforded to humanists. The judgment in the case is legally binding case law, that the Government must now follow.

In the court hearing earlier this month, the Government had argued that the couples had no right to humanist marriages, on the spurious basis that humanist marriages are not sufficiently connected to humanism to merit protection. But in her decision the judge rejected this argument, reasoning:

‘I am satisfied that the evidence shows that, for many who hold those beliefs, the ceremonies that mark significant life events, such as marriage, provide a close and direct link to the beliefs of the participants such as to amount to a manifestation of those beliefs. The evidence… makes clear that for many humanists such ceremonies are not simply motivated or influenced by their beliefs; rather, there is an intimate link with the humanist belief system; in particular, in the way in which couples prepare for their wedding with their celebrant, in the statements made during the ceremony and in the emphasis on individual freedom of choice. In my judgement, that evidence would establish the necessary connection between humanist marriage and humanist beliefs to amount to the manifestation of those beliefs for article 9 purposes…’

From concluding that humanist marriages are a manifestation of humanism within the ambit of Article 9, the judge then concluded that:

‘The position of such a humanist (which would include each of the Claimants in this case) is directly analogous to the position of a person holding a religious belief who similarly wishes to manifest that belief when they enter into marriage.

‘Comparing like with like, the humanist couple who wish to have a marriage ceremony that manifests their belief, in the same way as a religious couple might do, are thus treated differently: unlike their religious comparators, the conduct of their marriage ceremony, according to their humanist beliefs will not be legally recognised absent the supervisory presence of state officials.

‘That is the difference of treatment at the heart of this claim, and I am satisfied that it is a difference of substance, not merely one of form. Although many of the consequences of that difference – such as the additional costs involved – do not give rise to such fundamental point of principle, they also represent differences of treatment between the Claimants and their comparators that are more than de minimis.’

She also said that:

‘Unlike [the opposite-sex civil partnerships case] Steinfeld, the present case does not involve a challenge to a relatively new change in the law that has introduced a difference of treatment; the discrimination of which the Claimants complain is long-standing… While there has plainly been a very real change in social attitudes towards marriage… it is difficult to say that this is discrimination that has only gradually and recently lost its historic justification: on the evidence before me, marriages in accordance with ethical, non-religious rituals (as laid down by the predecessors to Humanists UK) date back to the early twentieth century; there is force behind the Claimants’ complaint that reform is long overdue (underlining added).

‘I am concerned that there have been delays in the Defendant’s response [to this point]… there must be a question as to whether the Defendant could have mitigated against the continuing discriminatory impact of the law by moving more quickly.’

In sum then, the judge ‘found that there is a continuing discriminatory impact upon those who seek to manifest their humanist beliefs through marriage’ and ‘the discrimination suffered by the Claimants is real: the difference of treatment they experience in seeking to manifest their humanist beliefs through the ceremony of marriage is a matter of substance, not merely one of form.’ Therefore, ‘I have found that – subject only to the question of justification – the present law gives rise to article 14 discrimination in the Claimants’ enjoyment of their article 9 rights.’ 

But the judge also said she had to give the Government the benefit of the doubt that they would reform marriage law after the present Law Commission review, writing, ‘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 that will necessarily engage with the wider concerns that have been raised’. With regard to the wider concerns about marriage law that prompted the review, she said that ‘such concerns could not justify the taking of no action’ on recognition of humanist marriages, merely that they justify letting the review run its course before the discrimination issues are fixed.

Humanists UK is disappointed by this conclusion, for the reasons given above. The claimants are now considering whether to appeal the judgment on this narrow point of whether the current review justifies not issuing a declaration of incompatibility to the effect that marriage law is discriminatory as in breach of Article 14. Such a remedy is now the only meaningful relief that can be granted to those claimants who have, due to delays, already had to marry by civil marriage ceremonies, contrary to what they had wished for their wedding days.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have 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 have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will do the same.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 07815 589636.

Read the full judgment: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/R-OAO-HARRISON-AND-ORS-v-SOS-JUSTICE-CO-4609-2019-JUDGMENT-7-AND-8-JULY-2020-APPROVED.docx

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

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.

Judgment reserved in humanist marriage High Court case

Claimants Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway.

The hearing has now concluded in the High Court legal challenge that six couples have taken over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. At the end of the hearing, the judge reserved her decision until a future date. Their case is being supported by Humanists UK.

Reserving her judgment, Mrs Justice Eady said that she doesn’t know when she will return a decision, but, recognising the importance of the matter to the claimants, intended to give the matter her priority. It is therefore hoped that the judgment will be returned soon.

At the end of the hearing, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘We are glad these couples have had their day in court, after two years of hard work getting to this point, and on a hugely important issue that has been at the top of our agenda with the Government for a decade now. We very much hope the judge rules in our favour and look forward to receiving her decision in due course.’

Claimants Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson, who live in north Lincolnshire, commented: ‘It’s a terrific achievement to have got so far with this and had our day in court – here’s hoping the judge decides in our favour!’

Claimants Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway, who live in Tonbridge, Kent, and intend to marry in Somerset, commented: ‘We are incredibly thankful that our voice, and the voices of many more humanists, have been heard in court and across Government. Our legal team did a fantastic job at conveying all the evidence and we are eagerly awaiting the final judgment.’

Claimants Finbar Graham and Jennifer McCalmont, who live in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, and intend to marry in north Devon, commented: ‘After following the case in court over the last couple of days we are extremely confident of getting a successful outcome, and look forward to getting the result all this hard work deserves in the coming weeks.’

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar Library of Northern Ireland. Humanists UK is supporting them in bringing the claim.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: ‘The Court hearing is another significant milestone in what has been a protracted journey for legally recognised humanist ceremonies. We are confident that the legal principles and human rights arguments raised hold strong weight and we look forward to receiving a judgment in due course.’

Please see the press release announcing the case for: information about the couples, including why they are taking the case, quotes, and photographs; what evidence was provided; more about humanist marriages; and endorsement quotes from politicians.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 07815 589636.

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, over 1,000 couples a year already have 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.

The humanist couples are taking the case to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages. Their lawyers argued that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination.

Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will do the same.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

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.

Couples head to High Court over legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales

Finbar Graham and Jennifer McCalmont are two of the six couples taking the case.

Six couples are at the High Court today to take a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. Their case is being supported by Humanists UK.

The humanist couples are taking the case to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages, as is the case with religious weddings across the UK and humanist weddings in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Their lawyers will argue that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination.

The hearing in the case would have taken place in the Royal Courts of Justice, but the pandemic means that it is instead now happening virtually. It will run from 7-8 July and while a decision could be returned by the judge as soon as the hearing ends, this is not expected.

Humanists UK President Alice Roberts welcomed the case: ‘A humanist marriage is something so incredibly special – a ceremony where the couple decides on the meanings, beliefs and values they feel important – rather than having to shoehorn themselves into some other template that society is forcing on them. It represents that freedom of belief that is a fundamental human right.

‘I find it so extraordinary that while humanist marriages are legally recognised in Scotland and Northern Ireland, they’re not in England and Wales. This is about human rights. This is about non-religious people being treated equally in our society. And this case is about six couples who dearly and desperately want their weddings to be perfect for them. I hope they’re successful and that sense, equality, and joy prevail, for their sake and many others to come. My love and support goes out to the brave couples taking this case.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘Legal recognition of humanist marriages has long been an issue at the top of Humanists UK’s agenda with the Government for a decade now, but over that decade the issue has been repeatedly batted away to one review and then another and now another. This has gone on for far too long. A change in the law is something that has only become all the more urgent in light of the coronavirus pandemic and the backlog of demand.’

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar Library of Northern Ireland. Humanists UK is supporting them in bringing the claim.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: ‘The time for asking to be accommodated is over. The Courts are now the only appropriate and realistic method of moving this issue on. Following a successful case in Northern Ireland momentum is on our side and I believe couples who look forward to a legally recognised humanist ceremony should take great heart and hope from that.’

More information about the couples, including quotes, and further endorsements from parliamentarians can be found in the press release announcing the case. Below you can find: (a) more information about humanist weddings, including around the British Isles; (b) more about evidence in the case; and (c) further notes.

(a) More about humanist weddings

YouGov polling shows almost 30% of the population hold humanist beliefs and 7% primarily identify as humanists. 69% of the public support legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales but the Government still hasn’t given legal recognition despite Parliament voting in 2013 to give it the power to do so. It has been on the statute books since but the Government hasn’t enacted that power. Figures show that (non-legally recognised) humanist wedding ceremonies in England and Wales have increased by a massive 266% over the last decade, bucking the trend of a decline in other types of marriage. Official 2018 statistics show that humanist marriages in Scotland are the least likely to end in divorce.

Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will do the same.

(b) Evidence in the case

Lawyers have provided evidence from Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He says that the lack of legal recognition in England and Wales is unlawful. Mr Shaheed told Humanists UK: ‘It is increasingly unusual internationally for liberal democracies to not give legal recognition to humanist marriages.’ The only general exception is if they follow a French-style system of not allowing religious marriages either.

Prominent experts in religion and religious figures including Linda Woodhead, Distinguished Professor of Religion and Society at Lancaster University; Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain; Tina Beattie, Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton; and Michael Booth, Church Government Adviser of the Recording Clerk’s Office of Quakers in Britain, also provide evidence on marriages from the perspective of the religious traditions in which they are experts, where religious people can marry legally in a ceremony conducted by a person who is authorised to conduct a wedding in keeping with the beliefs and conventions of their religion. The evidence they provide shows that there is no good reason for humanist marriages to be treated differently.

Other evidence is provided by Dr Lois Lee, founder of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent, on the demographics of the non-religious, and on the differences between religious and non-religious worldviews. She explains that humanism is ‘the most widely recognised non-religious worldview in the UK’. Dr Jeaneane Fowler, author of Humanism: Beliefs and Practices, gives evidence on the intrinsic nature of humanist ceremonies to humanism. Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland provides evidence on the operation and success of legally recognised humanist marriages in Scotland. And Paul Pugh, former Registrar General for England and Wales and humanist celebrant, gives his view on the Government’s approach to legal recognition of humanist marriages around the time of the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act and subsequent consultation, as well as the quality of the training Humanist Ceremonies provides.

There is also evidence from Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, Director of Community Services Teddy Prout, and Ceremonies Board Chair Zena Birch on humanism, Humanists UK, and the nature of humanist ceremonies.

(c) Further notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 07815 589636.

More information about the couples, including quotes, and further endorsements from parliamentarians can be found in the press release announcing the case. Couples are also available to interview on request through Richy Thompson (contact details above).

The claimants in the case have made the following images available for use by media:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

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.

Six couples in human rights case for legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales

Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley are amongst the claimants.

Six couples are going to the High Court on 7-8 July to take a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. Their case is being supported by Humanists UK, which has campaigned for legal recognition of humanist marriage for many decades.

The humanist couples are taking the case to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages, as is the case for humanist weddings in Scotland and Northern Ireland and for religious weddings across the UK. Their lawyers will argue that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination.

Parliament gave the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013 but no Government has used it. In the time since then, over 6,000 couples have been denied legal recognition for their humanist wedding, either having to go to a state registrar for an unwanted second ceremony in order to gain legal recognition, or not be legally married.

The six couples challenging this discrimination lodged their case at the High Court in November last year. Permission for the case to be heard was granted by the Court on 2 March, with the full hearing due to happen on 7-8 July. After permission was granted, the claimants offered to negotiate with the Government over possibly settling the case, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but this offer was refused. It is now hoped that the case will lead to a change in the law in time to help deal with the huge backlog of demand for marriage services that is now occurring due to the pandemic.

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, over 1,000 couples a year already have 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.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘Couples who have humanist weddings see that day as the epitome of their love and commitment to each other, and all they want is the same legal recognition for that as is given to every religious person in our country. We have tried for decades to address this glaring double standard. Government has dragged its heels and that’s why it’s been left to these couples to bring this case. As more and more non-religious couples choose to have humanist weddings, we need a law that works for all people who want to marry and we hope this case will lead to reform.’

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar Library of Northern Ireland. Humanists UK is supporting them in bringing the claim.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: ‘The time for asking to be accommodated is over. The Courts are now the only appropriate and realistic method of moving this issue on. Following a successful case in Northern Ireland momentum is on our side and I believe couples who look forward to a legally recognised humanist ceremony should take great heart and hope from that.’

Below are: (a) quotes from politicians; (b) more information about the couples, including quotes and images; (c) more information about humanist weddings; and (d) further notes.

(a) Quotes from politicians

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, who is the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, commented: ‘The Government has been considering bringing about legal recognition of humanist marriages for some seven years now, over three different reviews. In this context it is understandable that these six couples have given up waiting and decided to resort to legal action. Further, it has never been more urgent than it is now to extend recognition, since the coronavirus pandemic means that there is a long backlog of demand for civil marriages. Stopping people from having to have both a humanist wedding and an unwanted civil marriage in order to gain legal recognition is a clear way to unclog that backlog.’

Janet Daby MP, the Shadow Minister responsible for faith and belief, commented: ‘Parliament voted to give the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013 but we have seen dither and delay from successive Tory Prime Ministers. It’s time for the Government to recognise the thousands of humanists across the country who are simply asking for a legally recognised wedding that is reflective of their beliefs and values. The Labour Party supports the legal recognition of humanist marriages and a Labour Government will act to support the thousands of couples who wish to marry with a humanist celebration.’

Liberal Democrat Equalities spokesperson Christine Jardine MP said: ‘Couples shouldn’t have to go to court to fight for the right to get married the way they choose. Instead of wasting taxpayers’ money fighting this case, the Government should just make this simple but important change. The Liberal Democrats are proud of our record as champions of equal rights. That is why we have long called for legal recognition of humanist marriages and will keep calling for this.’

Green Party Co-Leader Siân Berry commented, ‘We’ve supported legal recognition of humanist marriages for a long time and it’s been disappointing to see the Government repeatedly delay bringing that about. England and Wales are now embarrassingly far behind Scotland and Ireland in affording humanists the same rights as religious people. Any further delay will mean thousands more couples missing out on the chance to have the form of legally recognised marriage that they want.’

Plaid Cymru also has party policy in favour of legal recognition of humanist marriages, while the SNP Government strengthened the law on humanist marriages in Scotland in 2014.

(b) Information about the couples and quotes

Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson.

Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson from Lincolnshire have been together for 14 years. They’re both retired from their primary careers, Kate from being a nurse and Christopher from being a project manager in the water industry. Kate is also a long-standing humanist celebrant and trained humanist pastoral carer. They want to get married in a humanist ceremony which embraces their deeply held humanist beliefs. They say they will not get married until humanist marriages are legally recognised.

Kate Harrison and Christopher Sanderson commented: ‘We believe that the act of getting married is profoundly personal and having a humanist ceremony is central to our identities as humanists. It is highly discriminatory that if you have a religion you can get married in a way of your choosing which is compatible with your beliefs, but if you are non-religious, the state has a complete monopoly over how you get married.

‘With us now both in our sixties, we feel it is increasingly important to legally reflect our lasting commitment to one another and that means a humanist marriage. We are very happy to be taking a case that will help to create a fairer law for people like us.’

Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway from Kent planned to get married in a humanist ceremony in September this year, but have delayed it until September next year because of the pandemic. Victoria works in heritage conservation for the council and Charli works in commercial development for the charity Parentkind, which supports PTAs and helps parents get more involved in their children’s education. They want to get married in Somerset, close to where Victoria grew up. They’re working with humanist celebrant Kevin Murphy.

Charli Janeway and Victoria Hosegood commented: ‘Our marriage is a very significant life event for us and the humanist ceremony we intend to have is the most important part of our day. It reflects our outlook on the world, how we want to live our lives, and how we treat not only each other but the rest of society. Marriage laws need to reflect the make-up of modern-day society, including the growing numbers of humanists, which is why we think this case is so important.’

Jennifer McCalmont and Finbar Graham from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, plan to marry in a humanist ceremony in late July on the beach in Devon where they first went on holiday together, and near where Jenny’s parents live. Jenny is a civil servant and Finbar is a landscape gardener. In Northern Ireland, where they live, humanist marriages are already legally recognised, so they could simply have a humanist ceremony there, but they want their wedding ceremony in Devon because it is the most meaningful location for them. Being able to do that is intrinsic to humanist ceremonies, which are all about creating a ceremony that best reflects who the couple is. They’re also working with celebrant Kevin Murphy.

Jennifer McCalmont and Finbar Graham commented: ‘Humanism resonates with us as it is concerned with the relationships humans have with each other and focuses on being caring, kind, and making the most of the one life we have. We come from two separate religious backgrounds which neither of us practices and so we didn’t want to be hypocritical in having a religious ceremony.

‘Living in Northern Ireland we could simply have a legally recognised humanist marriage here but Northam Beach in Devon is special to us as it was the first place we holidayed together. We fell in love with the beach and we want it to be part of our special day. Not being able to have the ceremony we want will undoubtedly undermine the significance of the day and devalue our beliefs. The current law discriminates against us as humanists.’

Capella Rew and Daniel Meakin from Somerset have had their humanist wedding ceremony since the start of legal proceedings, although they have not had a legally recognised marriage so they are not yet married in the eyes of the law. They are complaining about the discrimination they experienced, as much as discrimination they might face. Capella works in administration and Daniel is a security officer. They had their humanist wedding with celebrant Josie Lamb.

Capella Rew and Daniel Meakin commented: ‘The humanist approach to life is the one that best reflects our beliefs and values. This meant we wanted to have our marriage ceremony in a natural setting and at a place that held particular significance to us. We also wanted the freedom to create a ceremony that was personal and meaningful to us. Our wedding took place in the village where Capella grew up and we chose to plant a tree in the community orchard as a symbol of our union rather than exchange rings. The current law is unfair as in order to formalise our union we also have to arrange a civil ceremony and this has a further financial impact on us that many other couples getting married do not have to consider.’

Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley from St Helens have had both a humanist wedding ceremony and civil marriage ceremony since the start of legal proceedings. They didn’t want to have the civil marriage ceremony but felt they had no choice to gain legal recognition. They will complain about the discrimination they experienced, rather than discrimination they might face. Lucy is a secondary school teacher and Dan works for a local University. Lucy and Dan have their humanist wedding with celebrant Ben Jewell.

Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley commented: ‘Since the start of proceedings in this case, we’ve already had a humanist wedding ceremony as well as a civil marriage because we were unable to secure legal recognition for humanist marriages before our wedding date. However, we are now taking part in the case in the hope we can change the law for other couples in the future.

‘We see our humanist ceremony as our real ceremony, as did our family and friends, and it’s our humanist wedding that reflected our values and beliefs. It’s a shame the Government doesn’t recognise that as our real ceremony, when they would have done if we were religious.’

(c) About humanist weddings and marriages

YouGov polling shows almost 30% of the population hold humanist beliefs and 7% primarily identify as humanists. Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). They also gained recognition in the Republic of Ireland in 2012 and Northern Ireland in 2018.

69% of the public support legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales but the Government still hasn’t given legal recognition despite Parliament voting in 2013 to give it the power to do so. It has been on the statute books since but the Government hasn’t enacted that power. Figures show that (non-legally recognised) humanist wedding ceremonies in England and Wales have increased by a massive 266% over the last decade, bucking the trend of a decline in other types of marriage. Official 2018 statistics show that humanist marriages in Scotland are the least likely to end in divorce.

(d) Further notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanism.org.uk or phone 07815 589636.

The claimants in the case have made the following images available for use by media:

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages.

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.

Evidence in the case

Lawyers have provided evidence from Ahmed Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief. He says that the lack of legal recognition in England and Wales is unlawful. Mr Shaheed told Humanists UK: ‘It is increasingly unusual internationally for liberal democracies to not give legal recognition to humanist marriages.’ The only general exception is if they follow a French-style system of not allowing religious marriages either.

Prominent experts in religion and religious figures including Linda Woodhead, Distinguished Professor of Religion and Society at Lancaster University; Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain; Tina Beattie, Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton; and Michael Booth, Church Government Adviser of the Recording Clerk’s Office of Quakers in Britain, also provide evidence on marriages from the perspective of the religious traditions in which they are experts, where religious people can marry legally in a ceremony conducted by a person who is authorised to conduct a wedding in keeping with the beliefs and conventions of their religion. The evidence they provide shows that there is no good reason for humanist marriages to be treated differently.

Other evidence is provided by Dr Lois Lee, founder of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent, on the demographics of the non-religious, and on the differences between religious and non-religious worldviews. She explains that humanism is ‘the most widely recognised non-religious worldview in the UK’. Dr Jeaneane Fowler, author of Humanism: Beliefs and Practices, gives evidence on the intrinsic nature of humanist ceremonies to humanism. Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland provides evidence on the operation and success of legally recognised humanist marriages in Scotland. And Paul Pugh, former Registrar General for England and Wales and humanist celebrant, gives his view on the Government’s approach to legal recognition of humanist marriages around the time of the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Act and subsequent consultation, as well as the quality of the training Humanist Ceremonies provides.

There is also evidence from Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson, Director of Community Services Teddy Prout, and Ceremonies Board Chair Zena Birch on humanism, Humanists UK, and the nature of humanist ceremonies.

The position of humanist marriages around the UK, Ireland, and crown dependencies

Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will do the same.

More humanist than Christian marriages in Scotland in 2019, new stats show

Marie and Tiz by Ross Holkham Photography.

An analysis of newly released official statistics reveals that for the first time, there were more humanist marriages in Scotland last year than there were Christian marriages. Humanist marriages made up 23% of all marriages, while Christian marriages made up 22%. Humanists UK has called on the UK Government to urgently recognise the need to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, pointing to the new statistics as showing evidence of demand, and the likely over-demand for civil registrars following on from the coronavirus pandemic.

The new statistics were released by the National Records of Scotland earlier this week and then analysed by Humanists UK to calculate the total number of humanist and Christian marriages. In total there were 5,879 humanist marriages, compared with 5,812 Christian marriages. Humanists UK’s sister organisation Humanist Society Scotland was the largest single provider of marriages, with its celebrants conducting 3,276. The Church of Scotland conducted 2,225 marriages, while the Catholic Church conducted 911.

About humanist weddings

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.

Humanist marriages are legally recognised in Scotland, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and the Channel Islands, but not England and Wales. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005. In the Republic of Ireland, they gained legal recognition in 2012 and in 2019 around 9% of legal marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages. They gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and the Guernsey Assembly has passed legislation that from next year will the same.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have 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.

House of Lords pressure

The matter was raised in the House of Lords yesterday by All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group members Lord Low and Baroness Hayter. Lord Low said ‘Once weddings resume, there will no doubt be a huge backlog of demand for registrars, that could easily stretch through to the end of next year. One way the Government should seek to ease that demand is by extending legal recognition to humanist marriages, which would stop couples who want to have a humanist wedding from having to also have a civil marriage to gain legal recognition. Humanist marriages are already legally recognised in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. Will the Government commit to acting now to bring about similar recognition here?’

This was rejected by Government minister Lord True, who said ‘No my Lords, the current law on marriage is set in primary legislation and the Government has no plans to change it.’

Speaking for the Labour frontbench, Baroness Hayter then said ‘Could I regret the minister’s rejection of any thought being given to permitting humanist marriages, which would obviously stop couples from civil weddings. May I urge him to perhaps take time to think again about that?’ Lord True replied, ‘My Lords, I said that the Government has no time for primary legislation on this matter, and that is the position.’

Lord True’s answers were erroneous because in 2013 Parliament voted to give the Government the power to bring about legal recognition by Order (i.e. secondary legislation). The Government simply hasn’t enacted that power since.

The UK Government has announced that marriages will be able to resume in England from 4 July.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: ‘The huge popularity of humanist marriages in Scotland shows just how many people want to have them when they are legally recognised. The fact that they are not legally recognised in England and Wales is a growing travesty.

‘There has never been a more pressing need for this reform than now, with couples having to delay their humanist weddings simply because there are no civil registrars available in their area for some time. Given the significant and growing backlog of registrar bookings, the UK Government should seek to unclog the system by bringing about legal recognition. This would mean that those couples who want a humanist wedding ceremony would not have to also have an unwanted civil marriage ceremony in order to be married in the eyes of the law.’

Notes:

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

Read the new statistics.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaign for legal recognition of humanist marriages.

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.

Calls for legally recognised humanist marriages as religious weddings to resume in England

Bekka and Gareth’s clifftop wedding by Grant Lampard.

The Prime Minister has today announced that from 4 July, ‘places of worship [in England] will be able to reopen for prayer and services – including weddings with a maximum of 30 people’. However, the UK Government has said nothing about the resumption of civil marriages.

Humanists UK has long campaigned for legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, as is the case in the rest of the UK, Jersey, and Ireland. At present, couples wishing to have a humanist wedding ceremony must also have a civil marriage if their marriage is to be legally recognised. Humanists UK is calling for the UK Government to ensure the needs of the non-religious are provided for on an equal basis to those of the religious by extending legal recognition to humanist marriages, and by resuming civil marriages (which are the large majority of marriages in England), both subject of course to strict safeguards.

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, and over 1,000 couples a year already have humanist weddings without legal recognition.

In current law, humanist couples in England and Wales all must supplement their humanist ceremony with 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, amongst other things, to needless time being spent on them by registrars and increased financial strain for couples. No such restrictions apply in Scotland, Northern Ireland, or in the Republic of Ireland.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘The Government must ensure that wedding provision not only is safe but caters equally to the needs of all couples of all religions and beliefs. If the Government is now proposing to allow religious marriages to resume but not other types of marriage, then that would represent a failure to cater to the needs of humanists and other non-religious couples, as well as those religious couples who don’t want a religious wedding.

‘Furthermore, there is inevitably going to be a boom in the number of weddings taking place from when they are permitted again through to the end of next year, as pent-up demand leads to more people getting married. This will place significant strain on registrars providing civil marriages. One easy way to reduce this strain would be to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages, which would increase the number of officiants able to conduct legally recognised marriages and mean that those couples who want a humanist marriage are able to have one without also having to have a civil marriage. Such a move would be very popular, would make the system fairer for non-religious couples, and would be good for the economy by boosting the wider wedding industry. It is very much something the Prime Minister should consider as a matter of urgency.’

More about humanist marriages

Humanist marriages have long been legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and have had a transformative effect in both countries. They gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2018, 6,117 humanist marriages took place (22% of the total). Humanist Society Scotland provides more marriage ceremonies than any other religion or belief group. Official 2019 statistics show that humanist marriages in Scotland are the least likely to end in divorce. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legal marriages were humanist, placing the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages.

Humanist marriages became legal in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages last year and Guernsey is in the process of doing the same.

In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have a humanist wedding ceremony, a massive 266% over the last decade, bucking the trend of a decline in other types of marriage. But such ceremonies do not carry legal recognition without the couple also having a civil marriage as well. Humanists UK believes this is unfair, and since religious marriages do carry such recognition, discriminatory. 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. 69% of the public support legal recognition.

Notes:

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

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

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.

Humanist national memorial ceremony

Humanists UK has broadcast a national memorial ceremony to mark three months since the start of the UK lockdown, to offer an opportunity to reflect on what we have been and are still going through, pay tribute to those we have lost, offer hope, and reckon with the grief, mourning, and anxiety so many of us have known these past three months.

The ceremony is now available to watch through Humanists UK’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.

The 30-minute video has been released to mark a long and difficult period in which over 60,000 excess deaths have been recorded. The ceremony is presented by well-known faces like Joan Bakewell, Mark Gatiss, Alice Roberts, and Jim Al Khalili, but also includes frontline humanist community service workers including funeral celebrants, pastoral carers from NHS chaplaincy teams, and community volunteers from across the UK who have been working at capacity during this crisis. It also features music and a performance by the London Humanist Choir.

Millions of people in the UK each year draw comfort from humanist funerals and this ceremony is in that spirit. It is principally directed at non-religious people but it is hoped that it will give comfort to those of different beliefs and it is entirely inclusive in nature.

The ceremony was welcomed by Communities Minister Lord Greenhalgh, who commented:

‘Covid-19 is the biggest challenge the UK has faced in decades – and we are not alone. All over the world we are seeing the devastating impact of this disease. It threatens to take both our way of life and our loved ones from us.

‘Three months ago, today, our Government put in place strict social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus and help prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed, so that lives could be saved. We’ve seen so many communities, including humanists, support our neighbours and one another.  It is with thanks to the hard work and extraordinary sacrifice of the British people, we are slowing the spread of Covid-19.

‘And now as we begin to look forward, we look to rebuilding the UK with our roadmap to reopening that provides us with hope. We must also reflect on, and mourn the impacts this terrible pandemic has had, and the remember the lives we have lost.

‘I would like to thank everyone for the Nation’s efforts so far, and over the next months ahead.’

In the ceremony, Humanists UK President Alice Roberts says:

‘You might ask yourself what kind of meaning there is to be found in facing life’s unexpected difficulties. When anxiety, even grief and loss comes knocking on our door, and life comes to a halt. These are times when we look for strength in ourselves and place our hopes in other people.

‘You may feel cowed and beaten, levelled by loss, laid low with grief. It’s important to acknowledge that. But we’ve seen astonishing things, too. Selflessness, generosity, and bravery. Individuals placing others’ wellbeing above their own. Facing the challenges with such courage and dignity and compassion. We’ve also seen unprecedented international scientific cooperation. Competitors becoming collaborators. A glimpse of how productive we can be when we work together, not against each other. Humanity is laid bare by laid bare in a crisis like this, and there is so much goodness there.’

Humanist pastoral carer Lindsay van Dijk, who leads the NHS chaplaincy team in Buckinghamshire NHS Trust, in her contribution to the ceremony, talks about working in her role during the pandemic, and what it has been like to support people at this time:

‘What I have experienced is the tremendous amounts of love in the room when lives come to an end. We don’t always think about expressing our love to those around us during our “normal daily routines’” If we learn anything from this pandemic it is that life is precious and it is short; to experience it fully as much as we can and to do this with the ones we love – and to not wait until we come to the end of our lives to express how much they mean to us. Let’s say that we love them – today.’

Humanists UK celebrant Audrey Simmons reads words by Humanists UK Vice President AC Grayling in the ceremony. She says:

‘We never quite get over the sorrow caused by losing those most loved. We only learn to live with it, and to live despite it, which makes living a richer thing. That is sorrow’s gift, though we never covet it.’

And All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group Co-Chair Joan Bakewell, in her contribution, leads a moment of reflection, for quoting Humanists UK patron Sir Terry Pratchett as saying:

‘No one is finally dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away, until the clock wound up winds down, until the wine she made has finished its ferment, until the crop they planted is harvested. The span of someone’s life is only the core of their actual existence.’

Michael Rosen, whose poem in tribute to the NHS is read in the ceremony by Mark Gatiss, paid his own tribute to health service workers:

‘The NHS has just saved my life, nursed me back to health and are now rehabilitating me to be able to walk and be strong. I will forever be a champion of the NHS.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: 

‘In every part of the UK, people have suffered enormously with the weight of lockdown. Humanists UK’s national memorial ceremony is designed to bring together people from all nations of the UK to remember the lives we have lost and acknowledge the sacrifices we have made. This is a ceremony anyone can access and like all humanist ceremonies, its format is inclusive of attendees and listeners from all walks of life.

‘A humanist ceremony is typically characterised by its personalisation and its uniqueness to the situation at hand. Here, humanist celebrants have risen to the challenge of applying that same craft and care to create a ceremony that can speak to the whole nation at a time of grief and difficulty.’

Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented:

‘Throughout the lockdown period humanist funerals have continued, but we realise that not everyone who would have liked to attend a loved one’s memorial has had the opportunity to do so. This initiative allows people from right across the UK to join together in a common act of remembrance via an online ceremony. It also reflects on the changes to all our lives and the challenges we continue to face.

‘The inclusive ceremony draws upon shared values that humanists hold in common such as compassion, love, and our common humanity.’

Notes:

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

Media are free to use any section of the ceremony on their own websites, so long as they attribute what they use to Humanists UK. Humanists UK has also made two short sections of the ceremony available as stand-alone files for media, namely Joan Bakewell quoting Terry Pratchett on death, and Mark Gatiss reading Michael Rosen’s tribute poem to the NHS that has just saved his life. We are also making available a composite image of four participants in the ceremony, namely Humanists UK celebrants Phil Walder and Audrey Simmons, Humanists UK President Alice Roberts, and Mark Gatiss.

Humanists are non-religious people who shape their own lives in the here and now, understanding the world through reason and science and living by a moral code based simply on empathy and compassion. Humanist ceremonies exist to meet the timeless human need to mark life’s turning points – such as deaths, births, and marriages – with an event involving others.

Even in physically distanced times, the essential human need for personal connection and to express and share grief remains undiminished. The National Memorial Ceremony is an attempt by humanists to help address this need among the non-religious community and the country at large.

This ceremony includes contributions from humanists across all four nations of the UK, and includes participants from Humanist Society Scotland, Wales Humanists, and Northern Ireland Humanists.

Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 15,000 members across Scotland.

Wales Humanists is a section of Humanists UK.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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.

Humanist National Memorial Ceremony to mark three months since lockdown

Clockwise from top left: Phil Walder, humanist celebrant; Alice Roberts, Humanists UK President; Audrey Simmons, humanist celebrant; Mark Gatiss, actor and humanist

On 23 June at 11:00, Humanists UK is holding a national memorial ceremony to help those who have experienced loss due to the coronavirus pandemic and to mark three months since the start of the UK lockdown. The ceremony will offer an opportunity to reflect on what we have been and are still going through, pay tribute to those we have lost, offer hope, and reckon with the grief, mourning, and anxiety so many of us have known these past three months.

Taking the form of a 30-minute live broadcast across social media, the film is being released to coincide with the 3-month anniversary of the start of lockdown in the UK – a long and difficult period in which over 60,000 excess deaths have been recorded. The ceremony is presented by well-known faces like Joan Bakewell, Mark Gatiss, Alice Roberts, and Jim Al-Khalili, but also includes frontline humanist community service workers including funeral celebrants, pastoral carers from NHS chaplaincy teams, and community volunteers from across the UK who have been working at capacity during this crisis. It also features music and a performance by the London Humanist Choir.

Millions of people in the UK each year draw comfort from humanist funerals and this ceremony has been scripted in that spirit. It is principally directed at non-religious people but it is hoped that it may give comfort to those of different beliefs.

Michael Rosen, whose poem in tribute to the NHS is read in the ceremony by Mark Gatiss, paid his own tribute to health service workers:

‘The NHS has just saved my life, nursed me back to health and are now rehabilitating me to be able to walk and be strong. I will forever be a champion of the NHS.’

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: 

‘In every part of the UK, people have experienced loss due to the coronavirus pandemic, or suffered enormously with the weight of lockdown. Humanists UK’s national memorial ceremony is designed to bring together people from all nations of the UK to remember the lives we have lost and acknowledge the sacrifices we have made. This is a ceremony anyone can access and like all humanist ceremonies, its format is inclusive of attendees and listeners from all walks of life.

‘A humanist ceremony is typically characterised by its personalisation and its uniqueness to the situation at hand. Here, humanist celebrants have risen to the challenge of applying that same craft and care to create a ceremony that can speak to the whole nation at a time of grief and difficulty.’

Humanist Society Scotland Chief Executive Fraser Sutherland commented:

‘Throughout the lockdown period humanist funerals have continued, but we realise that not everyone who would have liked to attend a loved one’s memorial has had the opportunity to do so. This initiative will allow people from right across the UK to join together in a common act of remembrance via an online ceremony. It will also reflect on the changes to all our lives and the challenges we continue to face.

‘The inclusive ceremony will draw upon shared values that humanists hold in common such as compassion, love, and our common humanity.’

The ceremony is first being broadcast at 11:00 on 23 June, through Humanists UK’s YouTube channel and Facebook page. It will be available to watch back after it first goes out.

Notes:

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

Humanists are non-religious people who shape their own lives in the here and now, understanding the world through reason and science and living by a moral code based simply on empathy and compassion. Humanist ceremonies exist to meet the timeless human need to mark life’s turning points – such as deaths, births, and marriages – with an event involving others.

Even in physically distanced times, the essential human need for personal connection and to express and share grief remains undiminished. The National Memorial Ceremony is an attempt by humanists to help address this need among the non-religious community and the country at large.

This ceremony includes contributions from humanists across all four nations of the UK, and includes participants from Humanist Society Scotland, Wales Humanists, and Northern Ireland Humanists.

Humanist Society Scotland seeks to represent the views of people in Scotland who wish to lead ethical and fulfilling lives guided by reason, empathy and compassion. We provide a range of non-religious ceremonies and campaign for a secular state. HSS has over 15,000 members across Scotland.

Wales Humanists is a section of Humanists UK.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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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