On Monday morning Humanists UK published a statement outlining that new coronavirus regulations that came into force in England that day provided for religious and civil marriages to have up to 15 gathered in attendance, but made no such provision for humanist weddings. Instead, associated guidance specified that they ‘must be limited to 6 attendees’.
Today, the Government has stated its interpretation of the law is that couples are ‘entitled lawfully to have a humanist wedding ceremony (and reception) with up to 15 people present’ and that it ‘intends to revise its guidance accordingly.’
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:
‘We very much welcome this statement from the Government and look forward to continuing our work with them to make sure that everyone is treated equally under these frequently changing laws, which we hope in their next iteration will make these issues clearer.’
Meanwhile, Welsh Government officials told Humanists UK:
‘We have not made any changes to our position on solemnisation ceremonies which means any number can attend up to the capacity of the “approved premise”. Nor have we made any changes on wedding parties and the 30 people limit. As you know this means humanist weddings can also take place, indoors or outdoors, in any “open” premise in Wales.
‘The First Minister has made clear that he will not make any changes without evidence of a public health problem arising from these events. Should we make any changes the FM will want to understand the equality impacts of such a change in the advice offered and we will consider the implications for humanists.’
For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple. Humanists UK has provided these ceremonies for many decades.
In England and Wales, prior to the pandemic, over 1,000 couples a year were having a humanist wedding without legal recognition. They all must have a separate civil marriage – usually at a registrar’s office – for their marriage to be legally recognised, even though it is not what they want. Couples must go through formalities twice, leading to financial strain, and distress over the state failing to recognise their humanist wedding as their ‘real’ one.
Humanist marriages were legally recognised in Scotland in 2005, the Republic of Ireland in 2012, Northern Ireland in 2018, and Jersey in 2019, and they will gain legal recognition in Guernsey in 2021.
In the July humanist marriage legal case, the judge ruled that the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages means that ‘the present law gives rise to… discrimination’. She also ruled that, in light of that, the Secretary of State for Justice ‘cannot… simply sit on his hands’ and do nothing. However, she said, given that the Government is currently giving the matter consideration in the form of a review into marriage law by the Law Commission, the Government’s refusal to act immediately can be justified ‘at this time’ and concluded, ‘Although I may deprecate the delay that has occurred since 2015, I cannot ignore the fact that there is currently an on-going review of the law of marriage in this country.’ As a consequence, she declined to make a formal declaration that the Government is acting unlawfully at this time. The couples in this case are currently exploring a limited appeal of just the last part of that judgment.
Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.
Humanist wedding photo courtesy of Nikki van der Molen.