Justice Secretary receives hundreds of wedding invites marking ten years of Government inaction on humanist marriages

8 July, 2023

Hundreds of handwritten wedding invites have been delivered to the Justice Secretary ‘cordially inviting’ him ‘to afford couples freedom of choice and legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales’. The invites – some of which have been copied below – were filled in by Humanists UK members including many who want humanist marriages themselves, all highlight the personal significance of such a move for the senders. They mark the ten year anniversary since the UK Government received the power to grant legal recognition to humanist marriages. It did so on 8 July 2013, through its own amendment to the Same-Sex Marriage Act – but it has since failed to act.

Humanists UK was joined at the delivery of the invites by Peter McGraith and David Cabreza, the first same-sex couple in England and Wales to legally marry, just after midnight on 29 March 2014. Asked about the significance of the campaign, Peter McGraith said:

‘As a Scot living in England, I am well aware that all couples marrying in Scotland have the option of a legally recognised humanist marriage ceremony. And it is worth noting that humanist marriage ceremonies in Scotland are a more popular option than any other religion or belief group. I myself would have chosen a humanist ceremony if that had been available.’

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 gave the Government the power to recognise humanist marriages by Order. But in the years that followed, it has instead subjected the topic to numerous reviews and consultations. In 2022, the Law Commission published its review of marriage law in England and Wales – the third such review, and one that took four years – with the Government due to have responded in January. Meanwhile, humanist marriages have long since been legally recognised in Scotland (2005), Ireland (2012), Northern Ireland (2018), Jersey (2018), and Guernsey (2021).

Reflecting on the long wait, David Cabreza commented:

‘The introduction of same-sex marriage was an important development towards equality under the law. A decade after gay and lesbian couples gained equal access to the protections of marriage, I can understand the frustration that so many non-religious couples, in our modern pluralist state, must be feeling at not having the option of a humanist marriage ceremony that aligns with their values.’

The invites were hand-delivered to the Ministry of Justice. Messages from humanists included:

‘My partner and I had a humanist naming ceremony for our son and we would like to complete our family with a humanist marriage’

‘I would not have to have had two separate wedding days and could combine the legal ceremony with the real one’

‘A humanist marriage would give my friends the chance to love and build a life they deserve’

‘I live in a United Kingdom. Should I choose to get married in England or Wales, I’d like to enjoy the same rights and privileges afforded to me at home in Scotland’

‘It would make me less of a second class citizen’

‘As a humanist celebrant, I find it unjust and demeaning that the solemn ceremonies I create for couples are not recognised in law’

‘My son and prospective daughter in law will be able to get married according to their beliefs’

‘A chance to make the country a little more joyful, a little kinder, and a little more modern’

‘Being able to celebrate love with the people I love in the way that aligns with my beliefs’

‘So I can marry my partner’.

The case for legal recognition is clear. In 2020, six humanist couples took a legal case on the basis of discrimination to the High Court. In her judgment, Mrs Justice Eady found that the lack of legal recognition is discriminatory. She said that the Secretary of State ‘cannot simply… sit on his hands’ and do nothing to resolve the matter. However, she said, given that the Government was currently giving the matter consideration in the form of a wholesale review into marriage law by the Law Commission – which it said was the desirable way forward, the Government’s refusal to act immediately could be justified ‘at this time’. Since then, however, the review and its outcome have continued to be delayed. In the meantime, the Government has carried out interim marriage reform while continuously overlooking humanist marriages.

In April, Sandi Toksvig and Stephen Fry led a joint letter from LGBT people and organisations saying that humanist marriages are an LGBT rights issue. This, they said, is because two-thirds of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are non-religious, and few religious groups offer same-sex marriages. Humanist celebrants always offer same-sex marriages, and the first two same-sex marriages in Scotland were both humanist.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented:

‘We – along with hundreds of humanists – invite the Justice Secretary to legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales. Humanists have waited ten full years to have the freedom of choice to get married in line with our beliefs met. We shouldn’t have to wait any longer.

‘I urge the Justice Secretary to read each and every wedding invitation to hear directly from humanists what this reform would mean to them. It’s time for action and we call on the Justice Secretary to lay the Order to grant legal recognition now and without delay.’


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 020 3675 0959.

The wedding invitation campaign marks the ten year anniversary of the passing of an amendment on 8 July to the Marriage (Same Ses Couples) Act 2013 to grant the Government an Order making power to legally recognise humanist marriages. The ten year anniversary of the Act receiving Royal Assent is on 17 July 2023.

Read more about our work on humanist marriages.

Read more about the High Court judgment.

Read the Law Commission’s review on Marriage Law.

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.

Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 110,000 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.