More than a year ago, a non-religious wedding took place in Northern Ireland between soccer player Eunan O’Kane and model Laura Lacole. But not without some issues.
By law, their marriage wasn’t going to be valid because they were using a Humanist celebrant to perform the ceremony. Northern Ireland said marriages were only legal if performed by religious celebrants or certain civil servants.
So the couple filed a lawsuit right before the wedding.
An appeals court offered a temporary reprieve to the couple while they debated the merits of the case — so their marriage would be legal, but that wasn’t necessarily the case for other atheists. The judges still needed time to decide if the exclusion of Humanist celebrants was truly discriminatory.
How much time? Apparently one year. Because yesterday, the appeals court finally issued their decision.
The good news is that the judges said Humanists celebrants could perform legal wedding ceremonies… if they applied for “temporary authorization.” It’s a little bit of paperwork, but non-religious weddings are legal! There’s a strange separate-but-equal quality to it, but Humanists can get legally married with the freedom to decide who performs the ceremony.
The bad news is that the judges said the law was fine as is. There was no need to change it to “include” Humanists, because the temporary authorization made it unnecessary. That doesn’t make a lot of sense because it puts non-religious celebrants in a different category. But that’s a separate debate.
In the meantime, the floodgates have been opened for everyone, and that’s cause for celebration.
Lacole said while the law would not be changed, the consequences of the appeal court ruling meant couples now had a clear pathway to have lawful humanist ceremonies. “I am really happy,” she said outside the court of appeal in Belfast.
“The fact we are now walking away having the door be opened for the non-religious in Northern Ireland to have a humanist ceremony befitting of their beliefs is amazing.
“So other people can ultimately have the wedding we had, and that was the goal — so we are really happy.”
England and Wales now remain the only parts of the UK where Humanists cannot legally perform weddings, a problem that Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson spoke about in a statement:
‘As for England and Wales, now is the time for action. They are now isolated as the only parts of Britain and Ireland where humanist marriage is not recognised, at great cost to the happiness of loving couples, to the future of marriage, and to our economy, as couples go elsewhere. Giving legal recognition would be fair, popular, and simple to achieve. The law is already drafted; it just needs to be implemented.’
There’s really no good reason not to pass that law. Allowing Humanists to get married (without forcing a religious official on the guest list) doesn’t hurt anybody. This isn’t a slippery slope to anything. This is just common sense and human decency.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)