Humanists seek judicial review of Northern Irish authorities over legal recognition of humanist marriages

9 May, 2017

Eunan O’Kane and Laura Lacole.

A humanist couple, backed by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and its section Northern Ireland Humanists, has today gained permission to seek a judicial review of the failure of the Northern Irish authorities to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages. Presently, a couple wishing to have a humanist ceremony must also have a separate civil registration for their marriage to be legally recognised, meaning that the ceremony that actually matters to them has no status in law. Humanist couple, model Laura Lacole and Eunan O’Kane, who plays football for Leeds United and the Republic of Ireland national team, are hoping to change this. A full hearing in the case is scheduled for 26 May.

Humanist marriages are currently legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and in both countries they have proved hugely popular. In Scotland, such recognition was extended in 2005, and in 2015 for the first time there were more humanist marriages than Church of Scotland marriages. In Ireland, legal recognition was extended in 2012, and in 2015 humanist marriages became the third most popular type, behind only civil and Catholic. There were over three times as many as there were (Protestant) Church of Ireland.

In Scotland in 2005, legal recognition was extended to humanist marriages after the General Register Office for Scotland reinterpreted existing law, decided that to refuse to do so would constitute a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief. In Northern Ireland, marriage law is very similar to that in Scotland in 2005 – indeed it is based on it. However, earlier this year the General Register Office for Northern Ireland refused to extend such legal recognition to Laura and Eunan, triggering the present case.

Explaining the importance of legal recognition to her, BHA member Laura commented: ‘Marriage, for all couples, is a celebration of who that couple are, reflecting their deepest held beliefs and values. My wishes for my marriage are for it to reflect my deepest humanist values, much as a Christian might see their marriage as of special significance for them. People of all religions can be legally married in public ceremonies in accordance with their beliefs and by a celebrant who holds the same beliefs and values. My fiancé and I are only asking for the same rights as religious people already have.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson added: ‘Humanist weddings are incredibly popular right across the UK and Ireland, and this is especially true where they are given legal recognition. UK laws should treat everyone equally, regardless of religion or belief, and so given the recognition given to religious marriages, it is past time that the same recognition is extended to humanist ones.

‘We will be supporting Laura and Eunan throughout the case and wish them all the best in their wedding plans.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on or 020 7324 3072, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on or on 07470 395090.

Press are free to use images made available by the couple: Image 1, image 2. Laura Lacole is also available for interviews, which can be arranged through Richy.

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns around marriage laws:

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.

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of the British Humanist Association, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

Listen to Andrew Copson and Laura Lacole discuss the news on BBC Radio Ulster: