Humanist weddings — officiated by non-pastors yet carrying all the appropriate legal weight — have been legal in Scotland since 2005. In Ireland, they became legal in 2012. After a lawsuit, they became legal in Northern Ireland last year.
But England and Wales still require atheists who have a Humanist celebrant officiate their wedding to go to a government office to make it “official.” In the case of Amy Hicks and Michaela Francis, two women who plan to get married this summer, their wedding won’t technically count.
Twenty-four hours before the couple exchange rings in front of 70 guests they will have to go through a perfunctory “official” wedding at the registry office in Brighton town hall.
Hicks, 30, said that as well as the extra costs (£300) for a “double-ceremony”, they feel they are being discriminated against.
“We are having our ceremony on 10 August in front of all our family, friends, loved ones, but the law is forcing us to go through a prior ceremony at the registry office so it is legal. This means on the day before, having to put the rings on in Brighton town hall, and then what? Do we take the rings off for 24 hours so we can put them back on again at our own chosen ceremony on the Saturday? This is when we should be married in every way, including being legally wed,” she said.
It’s an unnecessary step created because the government privileges religion over non-religion. That’s all the more surprising when you realize that, as the Guardian reported over the weekend, humanist weddings have risen dramatically over the past 15 years while faith-based ones have been on a long decline.
According to newly obtained figures, humanist weddings have increased by a massive 266% over the last decade and a half, while most faith-based English and Welsh marriage ceremonies fell sharply.
The latest ONS data tracks different types of weddings — religious and secular — from 2004 to 2016. It revealed that Church of England weddings fell by 28%, Catholic weddings by 34% and Baptist by 42%.
In 2004 there were 287 humanist weddings recorded, in 2016 this increased to 1,051.
There are far more religious ceremonies, just looking at the raw numbers, but the point is that the trends are going away from faith-based weddings. Why would you bring God into a day meant to celebrate your love for another person when you’re not religious to begin with?
‘The fact that people are seeking to start their married life on a firm foundation of shared values and meaningful public commitment says great things about our society and it is bewildering that the Government continues to resist giving legal recognition. Thousands of couples remain either legally unmarried or have to go through the expensive irrelevance of a register office in addition to what they see as their ‘real’ wedding.
‘Parliament gave the Justice Secretary the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages five years ago and a public consultation showed that over 90% of people wanted it done. David Gauke should get on and do it. If he does, he will be enhancing the personal happiness of thousands of couples and improving society in a way that few politicians ever get the chance to do.’
This is one of those issues that shouldn’t be controversial at all. By giving humanist celebrants the same legal power as pastors who officiate weddings, no one is hurt and the governments gets to right a wrong. The only reason for delaying this is a desire to uphold tradition. But not all traditions should be preserved.
In the United States, by the way, it’s a state-by-state issue. Some states allow Humanist/secular celebrants to officiate weddings (at least ones that “count”) while others limit it only to traditional religious leaders. The Center for Inquiry is currently in the middle of lawsuits in Texas and Michigan calling for them to give non-religious officiants the same rights as pastors to solemnize marriages.
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