APPHG launches report on humanist marriages

25 October, 2022

From left to right: Charli Janeway, Victoria Hosegood, Baroness Bakewell, Andrew Copson, Hannah McKerchar.

Yesterday, the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) launched its second report on the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, No Lawful Impediment. The report is a follow-up to the APPHG’s 2018 report on the same subject. The launch event in Parliament was chaired by APPHG Co-Chair Baroness Bakewell DBE. Parliamentarians heard from experts involved in the campaign for humanist marriages. The cross-party group called for humanist marriages to gain legal recognition immediately.

Baroness Bakewell introduced the report, highlighting the developments that have strengthened the case for legal recognition since 2018. She spoke of the High Court case taken by six humanist couples in 2020. This found that the lack of legal recognition for humanist marriages is discrimination, legal only for the time being because of the Law Commission’s then-ongoing review of weddings law. According to Bakewell, there are no excuses not to act now that the Law Commission’s project is over.

The group also heard from Yorkshire-based humanist celebrant Hannah McKerchar. McKerchar has been a Humanists UK-accredited celebrant for seven years. She highlighted the issues her couples have faced in securing a civil ceremony to make their marriage legally recognised. This included poor availability following a backlog in civil marriages during the pandemic – a problem which yesterday’s report explores in more detail.

Claimants in the High Court case Victoria Hosegood and Charli Janeway also spoke. The High Court’s ruling meant that the law did not change in time for their humanist wedding in September 2021. Now married, they describe this outcome as ‘bitterly disappointing’. But they are hopeful that the law will change for other humanist couples in the future.

Humanists UK’s Chief Executive Andrew Copson closed the event. He raised concern over the report’s finding that humanist marriages could take several years to gain legal recognition. This is likely if this change is pursued as part of a wholesale reform of marriage law. He called on the Government to give humanist marriages legal recognition now. This does not require a new Act of Parliament. Instead, it can be done using secondary legislation under the Marriage Act 2013.

The APPHG is a cross-party group of parliamentarians from both Houses of Parliament. The Group is co-chaired by Tommy Sheppard MP and Baroness Bakewell, and has 115 members. Humanists UK provides the secretariat.


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 020 3675 0959.

Read the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group’s (APPHG) new report, No Lawful Impediment, in full.

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 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 years since, the Government has not done this. Instead it has reviewed the matter three times. The latest review was published in July 2022 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. Law Commission proposals rarely become law. Since 2017, only 10% of Law Commission projects have been implemented.

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 then-ongoing Law Commission review, she also said that the Government’s refusal to act immediately can be justified ‘at this time’. She did this because she saw the Government’s argument in favour of wholesale, rather than piecemeal, reform, as legitimate. This argument was particularly based on inconsistencies in existing marriage laws as to which can happen outdoors. 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.’ The Law Commission review reported in July, so the Government must now make a decision on humanist marriages.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on humanist marriages.

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.