53 MPs and peers have signed a joint letter calling on the UK Government to immediately legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales ahead of a parliamentary debate on the matter. The letter has been signed by parliamentarians from all major parties and across the religion or belief spectrum. The letter was organised by Humanists UK, who calls on the Government to listen and respond to the parliamentary calls for reform without delay.
The letter is being published ahead of Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), leading a backbench debate on humanist marriages which will take place later today, 27 January, from 13:30–14:30 in Westminster Hall. The proposal for the debate was backed by 26 cross-party MPs and peers, of many religions and beliefs.
The joint letter calls on the Government to give humanists the same freedom of choice to marry in line with their beliefs as already enjoyed by their religious counterparts. It also highlights the Government’s contradictory position wholesale and piecemeal reform of marriage law. The Government has said it won’t consider granting legal recognition to humanist marriages prior to the outcome of the Law Commission’s review on marriage as it wishes to avoid undertaking piecemeal law reform. However, as the letter points out, the Government’s move on outdoor marriages is such piecemeal reform. The Government has, therefore ‘fundamentally undermined’ this argument.
Parliamentarians state ‘we see no reason for humanists to wait any longer’, and note that granting legal recognition would strengthen families and marriage as an institution, boost the marriage sector, and is well supported by public opinion. They note that legal recognition would bring England and Wales into line with Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Jersey, and Guernsey, which have all granted such recognition.
The letter was signed by 53 MPs and peers across the parliamentary spectrum including Co-Chairs of the APPHG Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative) and Baroness Bakewell (Labour); Former Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief Rehman Chishti MP (Conservative); Former Shadow Faith Minister Janet Daby MP; Liberal Democrat Party Leader Sir Ed Davey MP; APPHG Vice Chair Aaron Bell MP (Conservative); Dame Angela Eagle (Labour); Dame Margaret Hodge (Labour); Tommy Sheppard MP (SNP); and Caroline Lucas MP (Greens).
The proposal for the debate was supported before the Backbench Business Committee by 26 MPs, including 9 Conservatives, and 12 MPs who didn’t sign the letter. The 12 include Steve Baker MP (Conservative) and Nick Brown MP (Labour).
Speaking about the joint letter, Crispin Blunt MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, said:
‘I’m proud to stand with my parliamentary colleagues within and beyond the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group to call on the Government to legally recognise humanist marriages.
‘The Government has had the power to legally recognise humanist marriages for nine years and counting but has failed to do so. Doing so now would massively enhance freedom of choice for non-religious couples. And it would be an opportunity to level up England and Wales to match the freedoms already afforded to couples in Scotland and Northern Ireland.’
Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:
‘We’re delighted to see so many MPs and peers unite their voices and call for legal recognition of humanist marriages ahead of the upcoming debate on the matter. We know that affording choice to humanist couples is well-supported within and beyond Parliament, across the religion or belief spectrum, and across political lines.
‘We look forward to watching today’s debate and urge the Government to listen to the calls of their parliamentary colleagues and act to legally recognise humanist marriages without delay’.
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at email@example.com or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
We are writing to implore you to legally recognise humanist marriages as part of the ongoing reform to enable outdoor marriages.
Humanist couples in England and Wales simply ask to have the same freedom of choice to marry in line with their beliefs as their religious counterparts. The Government has had the power to legally recognise humanist marriages since the 2013 Marriage Act but has yet to act.
The recent legal case on humanist marriages, Harrison, found the current law to be discriminatory. However, the judge stopped short of issuing a declaration of incompatibility as the Government stated it wished to avoid undertaking piecemeal reform of marriage law ahead of the Law Commission’s ongoing review on marriage. Inconsistencies around who could and could not marry outdoors were particularly cited as a reason why such piecemeal reform would be undesirable. However, this argument has been fundamentally undermined by the Government’s recent announcement of a consultation to introduce outdoor marriage.
We see no reason for humanists to wait any longer. Granting legal recognition would strengthen families and marriage as an institution, give an economic boost to the Covid-stressed marriage industry, and is well supported by public opinion. It would bring England and Wales into line with Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Jersey, and Guernsey, which have all granted such recognition.
This is not just an issue for humanists. It matters to all of us, of all religions and beliefs, as it is a simple matter of freedom of belief. We urge you to legally recognise humanist marriages, even if on an interim basis, ahead of the implementation of the Law Commission’s review on marriage.
The letter is signed by: Crispin Blunt MP; Baroness Bakewell; Aaron Bell MP; Rehman Chishti MP; Janet Daby MP; Sir Ed Davey MP; Philip Davies MP; Dame Angela Eagle MP; Wera Hobhouse MP; Dame Margaret Hodge MP; Kevin Hollinrake MP; Christine Jardine MP; Ben Lake MP; Clive Lewis MP; Caroline Lucas MP; Kerry McCarthy MP; John McDonnell MP; Layla Moran MP; Luke Pollard MP; Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP; Virendra Sharma MP; Tommy Sheppard MP; Andy Slaughter MP; Jeff Smith MP; Karl Turner MP; Lord Aberdare DL; Baroness Barker; Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle; Lord Birt; Baroness Blackstone; Baroness Burt of Solihull; Lord Cashman CBE; Lord Desai; Lord Dubs; Baroness Featherstone; Lord Foulkes of Cumnock; Baroness Greengross; Lord Haworth; Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town; Lord Jones of Cheltenham; Lord Low of Dalston; Baroness Massey; Baroness Meacher; Baroness Murphy; Lord Rooker; Lord Soley; Lord Stevenson of Coddenham; Lord Taverne; Baroness Taylor of Bolton; Baroness Thornton; Lord Trees; Lord Warner; and Baroness Whitaker.
About humanist marriages
Humanist weddings are non-religious wedding ceremonies 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. In consultation with the couple the celebrant produces a completely bespoke script. The ceremony also occurs in whatever location is most meaningful for the couple. Humanists UK has more than 300 trained and accredited wedding celebrants.
Humanist celebrants are well versed in mitigating pandemic-related risks. They create meaningful and authentic ceremonies in a safe and considered way, as is now needed for every event.
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). In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2019 around 9% of legally recognised marriages were humanist. That places the Humanist Association of Ireland only behind the Catholic Church and civil marriages. They gained legal recognition in Northern Ireland in 2018, following a Court of Appeal ruling that concluded that a failure to do so would be a breach of human rights. Jersey also gave legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2019 and in 2021 Guernsey followed suit.
Legal recognition in England and Wales has been under constant Government review since 2013. The Marriage Act gave the Government the power to enact legal recognition of humanist marriages without needing a new Act. But in the nine years since, the Government has not done this. Instead it has reviewed the matter three times. The third, current review is by the Law Commission. It is not likely to result in a new Act for several years. It may not even result in legal recognition at all – the Government has still refused to commit to this.
In 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, given the ongoing Law Commission review, she also said that the Government’s refusal to act immediately can be justified ‘at this time’. She 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.’
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.