I believe that to deny thousands of people the choice of a humanist wedding is unequal and unfair.
I am aware that Humanists UK has a long-running campaign for humanist weddings to be afforded the same legal status as religious weddings. Indeed, back in 2016, I wrote to the then Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, and urged her to legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales. However, no action was taken.
I believe fundamentally that humanists should have the same opportunity as religious people to have a meaningful ceremony, conducted by a person who shares their values and approach to life. Unlike civil marriages in a registry office, legalising humanist marriages would allow humanists to have bespoke weddings that are personal and meaningful to them.
I understand the frustration felt by the many couples who have humanist wedding ceremonies in England and Wales each year, but which are not recognised as legal marriages, especially since humanist weddings are recognised in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 provided for a review of whether the law should be changed to permit marriage according to the usages of non-religious belief organisations, to include a full public consultation.
In accordance with the Act, the Ministry of Justice conducted a consultation on the issue in 2014. The majority of respondents were in favour of changing the law to allow legally valid non-religious belief marriage ceremonies to take place in unrestricted locations, including outdoors. However, a change in the law did not occur.
In the October 2018 Budget, the Government announced that, in connection with promoting greater choice of wedding venues, it had asked the Law Commission to conduct a full review of weddings law and propose options for “a simpler and fairer system to give modern couples meaningful choice.”
One of the considerations of this review is:
‘Who should be able to solemnise a marriage, including considering how a scheme could include weddings conducted by non-religious belief organisations and independent celebrants. The Law Commission will not, however, be making recommendations on whether as a matter of policy new groups should be allowed to conduct legally binding weddings, which is a decision for Government.’
The Government has the ability to take a view on humanist weddings and legalise them now. However, they are choosing not to do this until the Law Commission has concluded its review.
I understand the frustration that this inaction is causing, especially as legalising humanist marriages is such an uncontroversial and simple act. I do not believe it is acceptable that no real progress has been made since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was introduced in 2013.
I can assure you that I will continue to urge the Government to legislate to allow for humanist weddings to be made official in England and Wales.