A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony
A Bedfordshire-based celebrant is backing six couples who are going to the High Court next week (7-8 July 2020) to take a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages.
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. This is already the case with religious weddings across the UK and humanist weddings in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
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.
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.
The couples’ 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.
Bedfordshire celebrant, Rebecca Turner, said:
“Many of the local couples I meet often don’t realise that their chosen ceremony isn’t legally binding and are dismayed to find that they have to visit the registry office to legalise their marriage, with the additional organisation and cost that this entails.
“They are especially frustrated to find out that this would not be necessary if they chose to get married North of the Border.”
Humanists UK chief executive, Andrew Copson, said:
“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.”
Parliament voted to give the government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013, but no government has used it.
After permission to take the case to the High Court was granted, the claimants offered to negotiate with the government over possibly settling the case, 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 coronavirus pandemic.