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Opposition calls for immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages

The Labour frontbench has called for immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. It made the call following the legal recognition of outdoor civil marriages, but the failure to deliver any similar much-needed reform for humanists.

On 1 July the UK Government changed the law to allow outdoor civil marriages until at least April 2022. But it made no announcement about legal recognition of humanist marriages. Humanists UK believes the civil marriage reform will do little to deal with the present backlog of marriages. That is because the backlog is driven by a shortage of registrars who can conduct legally recognised marriages, not by a shortage of venues. By contrast, legal recognition of humanist marriages would help with that. It would stop couples who only want a humanist wedding from also having to have an unwanted civil marriage to be legally married.

What is more, the civil marriage reform in fact undermines the case against making the same move for humanist marriages. In recent years the Government has resisted this on the basis that piecemeal reform of marriage law should not occur. It has argued that marriage law reform should wait for the outcome of an ongoing Law Commission review, which will take years to implement. It even made that argument before the High Court last summer, when six humanist couples took a human rights claim. In fact that argument was the only reason the judge refused to grant a declaration of incompatibility in the case.

Since 2013, the Government has had the power to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages by Order. A new Act of Parliament is not required. Labour believes the Government should use this power to also give time-limited legal recognition to humanist marriages.

Alex Cunningham MP, Labour’s shadow minister for courts and sentencing, commented:

‘Labour welcomes the Government’s announcement on marriage reform which will provide more flexibility to people getting married and could provide a huge boost to the hospitality industry, which has been so badly hit during the last 15 months.

‘But the Government hasn’t gone far enough with the reforms. They seem to have a total blind spot when it comes to humanist ceremonies which, yet again, they fail to include. More than a thousand couples a year have humanist weddings. It’s time Ministers saw the light and ended this stupid anomaly and allowed them the same opportunity to marry in line with their beliefs as their religious counterparts.’

The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party of England and Wales, and Plaid Cymru all also support immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages. Humanist marriages are already legally recognised in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:

‘There is no good reason to delay legal recognition of humanist marriages any further. The Government must make this reform as a matter of urgency. If it then decides to change the marriage law again after the Law Commission review, then there would be nothing that would stop it from doing so.’

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.

Humanist weddings are non-religious wedding ceremonies that are fully customised to match the deepest-held values and beliefs of the couple getting married. They are conducted by a humanist celebrant, someone guaranteed to share their beliefs. In consultation with the couple the celebrant produces a completely bespoke script. The ceremony also occurs in whatever location is most meaningful for the couple. Humanists UK has more than 300 trained and accredited wedding celebrants.

Humanist celebrants are well versed in mitigating pandemic-related risks. They create meaningful and authentic ceremonies in a safe and considered way, as is now needed for every event.

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). In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist. That places 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 in 2019 and in 2021 Guernsey followed suit.

Legal recognition in England and Wales has been under constant Government review since 2013. The Marriage Act gave the Government the power to enact legal recognition of humanist marriages without needing a new Act. But in the eight years since, the Government has not done this. Instead it has reviewed the matter three times. The third, current review is by the Law Commission. It is not likely to result in a new Act for several years. It may not even result in legal recognition at all – the Government has still refused to commit to this.

Read more about our work on legal recognition of humanist marriages.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanists UK Chief Executive leads NHS England national memorial to workers who died during pandemic

Artist’s rendering of the Blossom Memorial Garden in Stratford.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson has today led the national memorial ceremony organised by NHS England to remember NHS workers who have died during the pandemic. The memorial was also dedicated to the tireless work of NHS staff in caring for the 400,000 Covid patients who have been hospitalised.

The memorial took place in the Blossom Memorial Garden in Stratford, London, which was planted as a living memorial to those who have died, and to pay tribute to key workers. The memorial included readings, poetry, and personal reflections from Prerana Issar, Chief People Officer, NHS England and other senior NHS officials.

Later today, around 70 major landmarks will light up blue to also commemorate the anniversary. They include Wembley arch, Liverpool’s Liver building, Salisbury Cathedral and vaccination centres. Flags bearing the NHS logo are flying above Stonehenge.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

Andrew Copson at NHS memorial ceremony. Photo courtesy of NHS England.

‘It was a privilege to lead this private ceremony for NHS England. We couldn’t possibly capture in one memorial all the diversity and richness of the unique individual stories of the lives that have ended during this last sixteen months. The ceremony was instead therefore an opportunity for remembrance and recognition of all those who have lost their lives in the service of the National Health Service.

‘In our society, for the last seven decades, we have made a promise to each other that when any one of us falls ill, is suffering, or needs care, then all of us will meet that need together. That is what the NHS represents – that pledge, unique in human history, that every one of us living in this country has made to each other every day, all our lives.

‘It is the key workers of the NHS who fulfil that pledge and they are the shining beacons of our own best instincts. We are all inspired by the courage and dedication of all of them – of all convictions and beliefs – as they work tirelessly to comfort and support those in their care.’

NHS Chief People Officer Prerana Issar commented:

‘Each of the colleagues who sadly died while caring for and protecting patients represents an irreplaceable gap in a family and a workplace. While this was a private event for families and some NHS colleagues, I encourage everyone to take a moment today to reflect and remember.

‘It is no exaggeration to say that health service staff have helped to keep the country going during the pandemic, and while NHS staff have rightly been celebrated for their contribution, we know that the role played by other key workers – people keeping supermarkets open, refuse collectors, child carers and other public services – as well as the resilience of the general public, has helped ensure we can start to move forward.

‘The best way for everyone to say thank you to NHS staff and other key workers is to join the tens of millions of others who have so far had their first and second dose of the Covid-19 vaccination, and book your jabs today.’

NHS England Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May commented:

‘It has been an extremely challenging year for the country and for NHS staff in particular and it is important we reflect on our achievements with pride, and recognise the dedication and commitment of our amazing people who have made huge sacrifices, especially those who sadly lost their lives.

‘It has also been a year of hope with the success of our world-leading vaccination programme now in its final push, and our 73rd birthday is a chance to celebrate that and say a huge thank you to our staff, our army of volunteers, and our local communities for working so hard to deliver the extraordinary rollout.

‘This is a moment not only for the country to record gratitude for the NHS, but I think for all of us in the NHS to say thank you to everybody who has helped us, help you.’

Humanist contributions to the NHS

Today’s event took place ahead of the 73rd anniversary of the NHS on Monday. The NHS was founded by the humanist Aneurin Bevan, under the Prime Minister Clement Attlee, who was non-religious and lived a life defined by humanist values. Its founding followed the vision set out by the humanist William Beveridge, in his 1942 report that led to the welfare state.

During the pandemic, humanist key workers have been providing pastoral care in hospitals across England. Humanists UK’s members have been active volunteering with Covid mutual aid groups and in the vaccine rollout. And Humanists UK funeral celebrants, also designated key workers, have provided over 10,000 funerals.

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 more about our response to the pandemic.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Temporary marriage reform excludes humanist marriages

From July legal recognition will be extended to outdoor civil marriages in England and Wales. The UK Government has announced that it will change the law to allow this until at least April 2022. But it has made no announcement about legal recognition of humanist marriages. Humanists UK has called for their legal recognition to now also happen, on the same interim basis. It is writing to the Government to request such a change.

In recent years the Government has resisted legal recognition of humanist marriages on the basis that piecemeal reform of marriage law should not occur. It has argued that marriage law reform should wait for the outcome of an ongoing Law Commission review. Humanists UK believes today’s move undermines that argument.

The move by the Government will only affect venues that are already approved to hold civil weddings and partnership registrations indoors. They will now also be able to hold marriages on outdoor parts of their premises.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘For years now the Government has been resisting legal recognition of humanist marriages on the basis that piecemeal reform of marriage law is undesirable. It has particularly pointed to the need to deal with inconsistent rules around which types of marriage can take place outdoors. It has argued that allowing humanist marriages to take place outdoors when some other types cannot would be unfair. It has even made this argument in court.

‘For it to now allow civil marriages outdoors while not also legally recognising humanist marriages is therefore unfair, even by its own logic. It must now extend legal recognition to humanist marriages, at least on the same basis as it is for outdoor civil marriages.’

Since 2013, the Government has had the power to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages by Order. A new Act of Parliament is not required. Humanists UK believes the Government should use this power at the same time as it extends legal recognition to outdoor civil marriages.

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.

Humanist weddings are non-religious wedding ceremonies that are fully customised to match the deepest-held values and beliefs of the couple getting married. They are conducted by a humanist celebrant, someone guaranteed to share their beliefs. In consultation with the couple the celebrant produces a completely bespoke script. The ceremony also occurs in whatever location is most meaningful for the couple. Humanists UK has more than 300 trained and accredited wedding celebrants.

Humanist celebrants are well versed in mitigating pandemic-related risks. They create meaningful and authentic ceremonies in a safe and considered way, as is now needed for every event.

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). In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist. That places 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 in 2019 and in 2021 Guernsey followed suit.

Legal recognition in England and Wales has been under constant Government review since 2013. The Marriage Act gave the Government the power to enact legal recognition of humanist marriages without needing a new Act. But in the eight years since, the Government has not done this. Instead it has reviewed the matter three times. The third, current review is by the Law Commission. It is not likely to result in a new Act for several years. It may not even result in legal recognition at all – the Government has still refused to commit to this.

In 2020, six humanist couples took a legal case to the High Court. They argued that they were discriminated against by the fact that religious marriages are legally recognised but humanist marriages are not. The judge in the case agreed, ruling 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, given the ongoing Law Commission review, she also said that the Government’s refusal to act immediately can be justified ‘at this time’. She 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.’ The couples are exploring an appeal of this. They think that the eight years the Government has already had reviewing the matter is long enough. The Government’s latest move will only add strength to their claim.

Read today’s Government announcement.

Read more about our work on legal recognition of humanist marriages.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Growing marriage backlog points to need for humanist marriage recognition

Rachel and Harvey with celebrant Hannah Bryant by Roo Stain.

More and more couples having humanist weddings in England and Wales are expressing their frustration at the growing waiting times before they can also have a civil marriage and so be married in the eyes of the law. The backlogs in many parts of the country are a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent bulge in demand for weddings this summer. The couples invariably only want the humanist wedding but are forced to also have the civil marriage in order to be legally married. This is because of the persistent failure of the UK Government to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages. Humanists UK has called for this to change.

In a survey, Humanists UK wedding celebrants in England and Wales were asked whether they have couples who have tried to book a civil marriage ceremony with a registrar this year. If so, they were then asked whether those couples have had difficulties in securing the civil marriage ceremony.

Of those who have couples who have tried to book, 55% said that their couples have had difficulties in securing a civil marriage ceremony for 2021. They described experiencing problems all over the country, in places as widespread as North Yorkshire, Cornwall, London, Leeds, Norfolk, the West Midlands, Manchester, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Liverpool, Sunderland, Norfolk, Kent, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, and Worcestershire.

Humanist weddings are non-religious wedding ceremonies that are fully customised to match the deepest-held values and beliefs of the couple getting married. They are conducted by a humanist celebrant, someone guaranteed to share their beliefs. In consultation with the couple the celebrant produces a completely bespoke script. The ceremony also occurs in whatever location is most meaningful for the couple. Humanists UK has more than 300 trained and accredited wedding celebrants.

Humanist celebrants are well versed in mitigating pandemic-related risks. They create meaningful and authentic ceremonies in a safe and considered way, as is now needed for every event.

One celebrant in south east England said, ‘[The local authority’s] stance is if [the couple] do their legal paperwork [in the LA] they have no option other than a full registrar service at the venue at the cost of £700 so essentially having to have two ceremonies on the same day.’ Another said, ‘Many are postponing to 2022 or 2023 due to limited availability and stress linked to all the changes that keep happening. They have no confidence they can get the legal part done at a good time for them so are choosing to postpone.’ Another in Yorkshire said ‘One couple has been told that no new enquiries for weddings are being taken at all. They can’t even get on a waiting list.’ Another said ‘Previously, [my  council] offered £70 simple ceremonies, but haven’t for a couple of years now; their lowest-cost offering seems to be around £275.’ Another in south west England said ‘One couple wanted a no frills [cheapest civil marriage] but couldn’t get a response and then were offered a full ceremony at the venue by a registrar, so cancelled the humanist ceremony they had booked with me because they didn’t want to pay twice.’

Humanist marriages are legally recognised across the UK, Ireland, and crown dependencies – except England and Wales. In England and Wales, over 1,000 couples a year already have a humanist wedding without legal recognition. But they all must have a separate civil marriage for their marriage to be legally recognised, even though it is not what they want. Couples must go through formalities twice. This leads to financial strain, and distress over the state failing to recognise their humanist wedding as their ‘real’ one.

And now, due to the pandemic, that need for an unwanted second wedding has become even more of a burden. Humanist celebrants in England and Wales could be providing legally recognised marriages – much as their colleagues are everywhere else. But they are instead unable to help their couples, having to watch as they wait months before they can have a legally recognised marriage service that the celebrant themselves should be able to provide.

West Midlands-based Humanists UK wedding celebrant Hannah Bryant commented:

‘Several of my couples this year have struggled to get a date for their civil marriages. That includes some that have already postponed their weddings from 2020. This is particularly frustrating when they only wanted their humanist weddings in the first place. I’m doing everything I can to support them, but ultimately the law needs to change. That can’t happen soon enough.’

Humanists UK Director of Ceremonies Deborah Hooper commented:

‘The pandemic has caused a huge backlog in demand for marriages. This means lots of couples are now struggling to find a suitable date for their civil marriage. Our sympathy extends to all couples regardless of the type of marriage they are having. But this problem is particularly frustrating given couples having humanist weddings don’t even want to have a civil marriage. They are being forced to because of England and Wales’s persistent failure to change the law.

‘The UK Government is currently reviewing marriage law. On its current timetable this does not look set to result in any new legislation for several more years. And the Government hasn’t even committed to legally recognising humanist marriages after that review. That simply isn’t good enough. The Government should extend legal recognition without further delay, even if it then changes the law again after the review. Anything less than immediate recognition will leave thousands of couples stranded, unable to have the big day they want.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Ruth Wareham at ruth@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3000 or 0772 511 0860.

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). In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist. That places 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 in 2019 and in 2021 Guernsey followed suit.

Legal recognition in England and Wales has been under constant Government review since 2013. The Marriage Act gave the Government the power to enact legal recognition of humanist marriages without needing a new Act. But in the eight years since, the Government has not done this. Instead it has reviewed the matter three times. The third, current review is by the Law Commission. It is not likely to result in a new Act for several years. It may not even result in legal recognition at all – the Government has still refused to commit to this.

In 2020, six humanist couples took a legal case to the High Court. They argued that they were discriminated against by the fact that religious marriages are legally recognised but humanist marriages are not. The judge in the case agreed, ruling 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, given the ongoing Law Commission review, she also said that the Government’s refusal to act immediately can be justified ‘at this time’. She 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.’ The couples are exploring an appeal of this. They think that the eight years the Government has already had reviewing the matter is long enough.

Read more about our work on legal recognition of humanist marriages.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

In 2021, Humanists UK is celebrating its 125th anniversary with a renewed focus on its history. The new website Humanist Heritage is a rich new web resource that uncovers the untold story of humanism in the UK – a story of people, groups, objects, places, movements, publications, and ideas.

Humanist marriages gain legal recognition in Guernsey

Gary Vaudin conducting the wedding of Emily March and Ollie Power on the Island of Herm, prior to the recent change in the law. Photo shared with permission from the couple and photographer.

Humanist marriages have gained legal recognition in Guernsey, and Gary Vaudin, the first humanist celebrant, has been authorised to perform and solemnise marriage ceremonies throughout the Bailiwick. Channel Islands Humanists has expressed delight at the news.

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.

The new law passed through the States Assembly in November last year, before gaining royal sanction last month. Gary has since been authorised by the state to conduct legally recognised marriages. The law applies across Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark. It brings the Bailiwick into line with Jersey, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland. It leaves just England, Wales, and the Isle of Man to extend legal recognition.

Gary Vaudin, who is also a committee member of Channel Islands Humanists, commented:

‘I first became a Humanists UK wedding celebrant in 1998 – Guernsey’s first – and since then we have been campaigning for legal recognition of humanist marriages. In 2017 the Guernsey States of Deliberation (the Island’s Government and Parliament) decided to undertake that reform, and we’ve been pleased to work with them since to bring that to fruition. I’m delighted to have now been accredited as Guernsey’s first humanist celebrant and look forward to conducting the first legally recognised humanist marriages in June.’

It is hoped that further humanist celebrants will gain the power to conduct legally recognised marriages in due course.

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.

Couples wishing to have a humanist wedding with Gary can get in touch by emailing him at gjv@cwgsy.net or phoning 07700 706215 or 01481 235231.

Gary has made an image of him conducting the wedding of Emily March and Ollie Power on Herm available to the press, with permission from the photographer and couple. The wedding predated the legal recognition of humanist marriages.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

Channel Islands Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

Parliamentarians discuss impact of Covid-19 on the non-religious

The All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) met on Monday to discuss the impact of Covid-19 on the non-religious, including on our pastoral carers working in hospitals and prisons, on the work of humanist funeral and wedding celebrants, and the impact across the globe.

The meeting was chaired by Baroness Bakewell and first heard from the Chief Executive of Humanists International Gary McLelland who shared an overview of the findings from this year’s Freedom of Thought Report about how the pandemic has intensified the persecution of the non-religious in countries that are already known for this, such as Malaysia, Russia, Iran, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Gary called on the UK Government to conduct a global review into non-religious persecution and lead the way to uphold the human right to FoRB.

Parliamentarians then heard from Lindsay van Dijk, Lead Chaplain, Buckinghamshire NHS Trust, and Chair of the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network, who explained how pastoral carers have been supporting people in hospitals and prisons throughout the pandemic. She highlighted the barriers that non-religious pastoral carers face in gaining paid roles in hospitals given that many people in hospitals do not yet know that such care could be available, and that many job roles are unfairly limited to religious applicants.

Hannah McKerchar, a humanist celebrant and the Network Coordinator for Yorkshire and the Humber, shared that it has been a very difficult time working with family and friends who have lost loved ones and have to hold funerals in very different circumstances, and with couples who have had to change their wedding plans. Ms McKerchar highlighted the valuable work of Humanists UK in successfully campaigning for equal treatment for humanists during the lockdown in September, when humanist weddings were while briefly limited to the ‘rule of six’ whereas religious and civil marriages were able to have up to 15 attendees.

The impact of the pandemic on humanists at risk. Credit: Humanists International

Finally, Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, spoke about how it has responded to the pandemic including through pastoral support and ceremonies; by mobilising its 100,000 members and supporters to volunteer with the NHS or mutual aid groups and/or donate to foodbanks; through its school resources to help homeschooling parents and carers; and by holding a humanist National Memorial Ceremony in June for the first victims of the pandemic. Andrew also touched on ongoing work to call on non-religious people to, if they are able to, take the vaccine when offered, and to counter fake news and anti-vax misinformation.

After the presentations the panellists took part in a Q&A session and responded with clear calls to action for APPHG members which included to push for legal recognition of humanist marriages; to help support paid non-religious pastoral carer vacancies in the NHS; and to urge foreign diplomats to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The APPHG is a cross-party group of Members of the House of Commons and Lords of all the main parties. The Group is co-chaired by Crispin Blunt MP and Baroness Bakewell, and has over 110 members. Humanists UK provides the secretariat.


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 more about the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group.

See Humanists UK’s Twitter thread about the APPHG meeting.

Read the Freedom of Thought Report.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

Northern Ireland humanist marriage venues allowed to reopen

Photo credit Emma Kenny.

Venues used for humanist marriages are allowed to reopen from today, after a strong majority of such venues were required to close during the recent lockdown.

The regulations, during the two-week lockdown, required venues that normally serve food or drink to close – regardless of whether they were actually serving food or drink. This affected many humanist couples, who frequently choose to get married in such locations. By contrast, places of worship were allowed to stay open for religious marriages, and register offices were allowed to open for civil marriages.

But the situation has now reverted back to how it was before the lockdown, with the venues allowed to reopen for humanist weddings. Numbers are now determined by the size of the venue, based on what is possible with social distancing.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator said: ‘We are glad to see this issue resolved. Over the last two weeks, we have been doing everything we can to help couples affected by this problem, including helping with emergency changes of plans, and are pleased that most were still able to have their big days.

‘We also lobbied hard for change. We met with two Executive ministers as well as relevant officials. They were unable to fix the issue before the new regulations came into force today, but assured us that they will do what they can to avoid a similar problem occurring again, if there are any future lockdowns.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at Boyd.Sleator@humanism.org.uk or phone 07918 975795.

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 over 120 years.

Humanist marriages have been legally recognised in Northern Ireland since 2018.

Read our previous comment, ‘Humanist couples most hurt by Northern Ireland Covid lockdown wedding rules’.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

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 100,000 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 couples most hurt by Northern Ireland Covid lockdown wedding rules

Hannah Lardner and Danny Conway have been affected by the restrictions – photo credit Francis Meaney Photography.

Update, 11 December: Venues are now able to reopen, with humanist marriages once again being treated the same as religious and civil marriages.

Original story:New two-week lockdown rules that came into force in Northern Ireland on Friday are causing serious, disproportionate disruption for couples having humanist marriages. This is because they require the vast majority of the venues in which they occur to shut, while allowing places of worship and register offices to continue to host religious and civil marriages, respectively. Northern Ireland Humanists estimates that around 90% of couples having humanist marriages are affected by the situation, and has urged the Government to fix the problem as soon as possible.

The new regulations, which are in force until 10 December, allow weddings to continue with up to 25 people in attendance. This includes outdoors, in places of worship (for religious marriages), in registry offices (for civil marriages), and elsewhere. But they also require premises used to provide food or drink to close – even, in officials’ view, if food and drink is not being provided, and including in parts of the premises where this is true even in normal times. This is underlined by guidance published alongside the regulations, which says that ‘marriage ceremonies cannot take place at any venue that is licensed to sell alcohol’, and ‘Can marriages and civil partnerships go ahead in hospitality venues? No, hospitality venues are closed.’

The result is that the vast majority of locations used by couples having humanist marriages are being forced to close – even though, when they are not providing food or drink, they should be just as safe as places of worship or registry offices.

Yesterday, Northern Ireland Humanists had extensive discussions with the Executive about the matter, and the relevant minister and officials committed to doing what they can to try to resolve the problem. But it is unclear whether this will be possible before 11 December.

Affected couples have expressed their frustration about the rules.

Hannah Lardner and Danny Conway were due to get married on 4 December, which due to the pandemic was already their fourth venue and second date, only to be told that their current venue must close as well. Their humanist celebrant is Jean Barrett Quinn. They commented:

‘We have always supported the lockdown measures, and have both not seen our families this year. We completely understand the importance of protecting those around us, the NHS, and the country. However, what we don’t understand is why, as members of Northern Ireland Humanists, our beliefs and our wedding is considered less critical than that of a religious couple. We have been made to feel that our wedding is less important, our views less valid, and our love, quite honestly, less sincere, than those who are still permitted to celebrate in their way with a celebrant who shares their beliefs, in a Church.’

Emma McCorry and Neil Mannus weren’t able to have a legally recognised humanist marriage, due to the changing rules. Photo credit The Three Bears Photography.

Emma McCorry and Neil Mannus have also been affected by the new restrictions. Their humanist celebrant is Sarah Stewart. They commented:

‘We were due to get married in Ballymena last Sunday, a date and location that had already changed once due to the pandemic. There would have been no food and drink at our wedding, and so our venue would have been just as safe as a registry office or a place of worship. And yet we uniquely were told that our venue must close, significantly disrupting our plans at what is already a very trying time. We urge the Government to change its guidance as soon as possible, to make clear that others like us can have their big days go ahead as planned.’

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘These rules are unfair to humanist couples by closing the vast majority of possible venues they can use, while leaving other venues available just for couples having religious or civil marriages. So many couples are having their big day disrupted by these inconsistent and illogical closures.

‘We were pleased to be able to meet yesterday with the Northern Ireland Executive to discuss the matter, and were glad to find the minister and officials very sympathetic to our plight. But now we need the Executive to resolve the situation as soon as possible.’

Northern Ireland Humanists first became aware that there may be some form of problem with the new regulations when the two-week lockdown was first announced. Since then, it repeatedly raised concerns with ministers and officials. But this did not result in the problems being avoided, the precise nature of the issue only becoming apparent on Friday as the regulations were published – unhelpfully also the day they came into force. Yesterday, the Executive committed to looking into the issue as a matter of priority, and Northern Ireland Humanists were pleased with this commitment and with sympathy expressed by officials and the relevant minister. But the Government has not yet been able to commit to resolving the problem in any particular time frame.

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at Boyd.Sleator@humanism.org.uk or phone 07918 975795.

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 over 120 years.

Humanist marriages have been legally recognised in Northern Ireland since 2018.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

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 100,000 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 marriage law passes in Guernsey

A new Law in Guernsey that will give legal recognition to humanist marriages has received Royal Sanction, meaning that it has completed its legislative passage and is now certain to come into force. The Marriage (Bailiwick of Guernsey) Law 2020 is due to come into effect on 1 March, and is expected to do so across Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark. Channel Islands Humanists, which helped shape the legislation, has expressed delight at the news.

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.

The Law was passed following a public consultation that found 94% of respondents supporting legal recognition of humanist marriages. Channel Islands Humanists responded to the consultation and has been actively engaged with officials during the process. The Law follows on from Jersey giving legal recognition in 2019, Northern Ireland in 2018, Ireland in 2012, and Scotland in 2005. Last year there were more humanist than Christian marriages in Scotland, while around 9% of marriages in Ireland were humanist. That only leaves England, Wales, and the Isle of Man yet to extend legal recognition.

Guernsey-based celebrant Gary Vaudin, who is also a committee member of Channel Islands Humanists, commented: ‘We’re delighted that humanist marriages are set to gain legal recognition in Guernsey. The States consultation on the matter showed overwhelming public support for this change, which means that non-religious people will finally have a form of marriage that can reflect their own beliefs and values.

‘We look forward to working with officials until this law comes into force on 1 March.’

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 States of Guernsey announcement of the new Law.

Read more about our campaigns work on humanist marriages.

Channel Islands Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

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.

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