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Parliamentary humanists: ‘recognise humanist marriages immediately’

Humanist wedding. Photo credit: Nikki van der Molen Photography

Today the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) met to discuss the pressing need to legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales. An expert panel of speakers called on the Government to extend legal recognition now, rather than wait until the outcome of the Law Commission’s review of marriage. Humanists UK, which acts as the Secretariat to the APPHG, welcomed today’s calls for legal recognition and urges the Government to act without delay.

APPHG Co-Chair Crispin Blunt MP chaired the event. Parliamentarians heard first from humanist celebrant Zena Birch, who highlighted the personal, bespoke nature of humanist wedding ceremonies, and how everything that goes into them is designed to make them as meaningful as possible to their participants. She also pointed to the emotional burden caused to humanist couples by the need to have a second, unwanted civil marriage in order to secure legal recognition. Kate Harrison, the lead claimant in the 2020 High Court case on humanist marriages, then spoke of her own personal decision not to marry her partner of 16 years until humanist marriages are legally recognised.

Barrister Steven McQuitty provided an insight into the findings of Harrison, the 2020 case in which he acted. The case established that the current law is discriminatory, but stopped short of a declaration of incompatibility due to the Law Commission’s ongoing review of marriage law. The judge decided that the Government’s position of wanting wholesale, rather than piecemeal, reform was legitimate. But Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK, pointed out that the Government has since undermined this position by legally recognising outdoor civil and religious marriages.

The APPHG also heard from Siobhan Baillie MP, Chair of the APPG for Weddings, who reiterated her support for legal recognition of humanist marriages. She highlighted the importance of weddings that are meaningful to the couple for creating strong relationships in the long term.

Today’s meeting follows a recent Westminster Hall debate on humanist marriages held on 27 January. Supported by Humanists UK, the debate was led by Crispin Blunt and backed by 26 cross-party MPs in support of reform. The debate coincided with a joint letter signed by 53 MPs and peers from all major parties, calling on the Government to immediately extend legal recognition to humanist marriages.

The All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group is a cross-party group of parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament. The group is co-chaired by Crispin Blunt and Baroness Bakewell.

The APPHG has long called for the immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages. Its 2018 report, Any lawful impediment?, examined the reasons given by previous inquiries for failing to enact reform. The report concluded that the ongoing delay in recognising humanist marriages is unjustified. It also found that these delays are leaving humanist couples at a serious financial and practical disadvantage.

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For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on the legal recognition of humanist marriages.

Read more about the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group.

Read the APPHG’s 2018 report, ‘Any Lawful Impediment?’ A report of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group’s inquiry into the legal recognition of humanist marriage in England and Wales.

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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