On Scotland’s humanist wedding anniversary, humanists call on Michael Gove to allow humanist marriages in England and Wales

18 June, 2015

The BHA has called on Lord Chancellor Michael Gove to use order-making powers to legalise humanist marriage in England and Wales
The BHA has called on Lord Chancellor Michael Gove to use order-making powers to legalise humanist marriage in England and Wales. | Photo: Policy Exchange

On the tenth anniversary of the first legal humanist marriage in Scotland today, the British Humanist Association has renewed its call for the introduction of legal humanist marriages in England and Wales.

Humanist marriage ceremonies are non-religious, personalised, and meaningful ceremonies conducted by trained and accredited humanist celebrants who share the values and beliefs of the couple, and place strong emphasis on the couple’s personal story and commitment to each other.

The Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) was first permitted by Scotland’s Registrar General to conduct legal marriage ceremonies on 18 June 2005. In that time the demand for humanist ceremonies has grown in a way unimaginable at the time. The HSS is expected to become the largest provider of legal marriage ceremonies of any religious or belief group in Scotland by the end of 2015.

Statistics from the National Records of Scotland already show the number of humanist marriages exceeded that of Catholic weddings in Scotland in 2013, making the HSS the second largest provider of marriages out of any belief group after the Church of Scotland (Kirk). These same figures show a steady decline in the number of Kirk weddings, which if continued, means that there will be more humanist marriages in 2015. The HSS anticipates that it conduct 4,200 humanist marriage ceremonies in 2015.

However, despite the overwhelming popularity of humanist marriages in Scotland, they are not yet legally recognised in England and Wales, meaning couples married by British Humanist Association (BHA) celebrants, if they wish to do so, must have an additional register office ceremony to take care of legalities.

A humanist ceremony in England | Photo: www.wikiphotography.info
Humanist weddings in England and Wales are not legally recognised, so couples who wish to be legally married must also go to the register office | Photo: Miki Photography

A Government consultation into legalising humanist marriages in England and Wales was mandated by the 2013 Marriage Act, which also gave order-making powers to the Lord Chancellor to legalise humanist marriage. The consultation found no practical barriers as well as overwhelming public support for legalisation, with 95% of respondents from all beliefs and backgrounds in favour of the change.

Nonetheless, the Coalition government attempted to kick the issue into the long grass at the end of the last Parliament by instigating a broader review of marriage law from the Law Commission. However, the Lord Chancellor retains the power to introduce legal humanist marriages by secondary legislation. This is what the BHA is calling on Lord Chancellor Michael Gove to do

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘In Scotland, today is about celebrating and congratulating the over 20,000 couples who have had the benefit of a humanist marriage. In England and Wales it is about pledging not to give up until couples across the UK all have the same enjoyment.

‘We have called on the Lord Chancellor to use the powers given to him by the Marriage Act to introduce legal humanist marriages in England and Wales. Thousands of couples were devastated last year when the Government chose not to legalise humanist marriages – but by acting now, he can set that right.

‘While only a modest change to the law, legal humanist marriages would mean everything to the thousands of couples in England and Wales who are waiting for it. They simply want to have the same opportunity to enjoy a meaningful marriage ceremony which reflects their beliefs and values in the way their religious friends and neighbours already can.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Directir of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanists.uk or 0773 843 5059.

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.