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Welsh Government calls on UK Government to immediately legally recognise humanist marriages

A joyful humanist wedding. Photo credit: Nikki van der Molen Photography.

Today in the Senedd, the Welsh Government confirmed its support for immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages, telling the UK Government that this issue should be resolved now, or else devolved to Wales.

Humanist marriages are legally recognised in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the Channel Islands. But they are not in England and Wales. Marriage law is not devolved to Wales, meaning that the UK Parliament and UK Government are responsible for it, and not the Senedd (Welsh Parliament) or Welsh Government.

Joyce Watson, member of the Senedd for Mid and West Wales, asked ‘What discussions has the Counsel General had with other law officers regarding the campaign to grant humanist marriages legal recognition?’ Responding, Counsel General for Wales Mick Antoniw MS confirmed that, as well as the Welsh Minister for Social Justice writing to the UK Equality Minister, he would write to the UK Secretary of State for Justice requesting immediate action on this long outstanding issue.

At present, couples in England and Wales wishing to have a humanist wedding ceremony and to be legally married also have to go through a separate civil marriage, often for practical reasons on a different date, in order to gain legal recognition. This is an additional expense and administrative burden that religious couples don’t have to face, but more than that, couples often complain that the marriage ceremony they see as their real wedding is not the one recognised in law or even by religious friends or relatives as when they become legally married.

Humanist weddings are personal occasions that are fully customised to match the deepest-held values and beliefs of the couple getting married. They are conducted by a humanist celebrant, someone guaranteed to share their beliefs, who in consultation with the couple produces a bespoke script. Even though they are not currently legally recognised in England or Wales, Humanists UK does more non-legal wedding ceremonies than any minority religious group does legal marriages.

In July 2020, six humanist couples took a legal case to the High Court. They argued that they were discriminated against by the fact that religious marriages are legally recognised but humanist marriages are not. The judge in the case agreed, ruling 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 there has still been no action to address this imbalance.

Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick commented:

‘Humanist marriages are already legally recognised in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the Channel Islands. That just leaves England and Wales. But as the Welsh Government has now made plain, it is in fact just the UK Government that is holding up change.

‘Humanist marriages have been on the statute books in England and Wales since 2013 but the UK Government refuses to issue the Order to enact the statute. Instead it has been reviewing the matter for eight years now, which is far too long. Having the Welsh Government’s full support is welcome and we hope will add pressure to get the UK Government to act as soon as possible.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, media should contact Wales Humanists Coordinator Kathy Riddick at kathy@humanists.uk or phone 07881 625 378.

More about humanist marriages

YouGov polling shows almost 30% of the population hold humanist beliefs and 7% primarily identify as humanists. Humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005 and in 2019 there were more humanist than Christian marriages for the first time (23% of the total). They also gained recognition in the Republic of Ireland in 2012 and Northern Ireland in 2018.

68% of the public support legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales but the UK Government still hasn’t given legal recognition despite Parliament voting in 2013 to give it the power to do so. It has been on the statute books since but the Government hasn’t enacted that power. Figures show that (non-legally recognised) humanist wedding ceremonies in England and Wales have increased by a massive 266% over the last decade, bucking the trend of a decline in other types of marriage. Official 2018 statistics show that humanist marriages in Scotland are the least likely to end in divorce.

View the Senedd discussion.

Read more about our campaigns work on humanist marriages.

Wales Humanists is part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 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.

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