The government has today brought forward a proposal for regulations that would give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales. The proposal is being made as an amendment to the Same Sex Marriage Bill currently in the House of Lords and comes in the wake of overwhelming cross-party support for legal recognition expressed by peers from all parties at the previous reading of the Bill.
Many hundreds of couples have humanist weddings in England and Wales each year but unlike in Scotland – where almost 3000 were conducted last year – they are not recognised as legal marriages.
Giving legal recognition to humanist marriages as part of the present Marriage Bill was first proposed as an amendment in the House of Commons by Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs and went on to secure support from MPs of all parties. Government resistance at that stage prevented any progress, although a majority of MPs were in favour.
The issue was brought back in the House of Lords by Labour and Conservative peers and supported by peers from all three parties and from Crossbenchers, with no peer speaking against giving legal recognition. Following that debate, a coalition of Crossbench, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative peers tabled an amendment that would give the government the power to make regulations giving legal recognition.
It is this proposal that has now been picked up by the government. Under the government’s proposal, which is now supported by peers from all parties in the Lords, ministers will be given the power to make regulations giving legal recognition to humanist marriages following a review of the current situation, which the law mandates must be conducted and report before the end of 2014.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA, said, ‘Legal recognition for humanist marriages has wide support across the country and we welcome any step that brings it closer. It is eight years now since Scotland introduced humanist marriages and just last week the Republic of Ireland followed suit – England and Wales are lagging behind. Millions of people in England and Wales have profound beliefs and values that have nothing to do with religion and which they want to draw on in creating the moments that give their lives meaning, including marriage. Humanist celebrants have decades of experience in creating and leading those ceremonies and the couples that have them deserve for that wedding to be their legal marriage.’
As well as hundreds of marriages, the BHA conducts many thousands of funerals every year. All the ceremonies are conducted by trained and accredited celebrants subject to strict quality assurance processes and 97% of clients give these ceremonies feedback of 5/5. www.humanistceremonies.org.uk
MPs named on the amendments in the House of Commons:
Stephen Williams-Mover (Lib Dem)
Kate Green-Mover (Labour)
Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem)
Julian Huppert (Lib Dem)
Mike Weatherley (Conservative)
Chris Bryant (Labour)
Kelvin Hopkins (Labour)
Peers named on amendments in House of Lords:
Lord Harrison-Mover (Labour)
Baroness Massey (Labour)
Lord Garel-Jones (Conservative)
Lord Alli (Labour)
Baroness Meacher-Mover (Crossbencher)
Baroness Brinton (Lib Dem)
Peers named on government amendment:
Baroness Stowell-Mover (Conservative)
Baroness Thornton (Labour)
Lord Pannick (Crossbencher)
Lord Lester (Lib Dem)
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.