Marriage in Iceland

The Church of Iceland, a Lutheran Church, is the official state church of Iceland. It and other registered religions receive government support through a church tax paid by all citizens.

Siðmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, applied and lobbied for over a decade to gain equal legal and funding status with the registered religious organizations in Iceland. They submitted applications on two occasions to be recognized with arguments that they technically met the various requirements. When the first application was rejected, they worked on perfecting their justification but their second application was also rejected.

They then considered two routes to equal status: First, they could file a human rights complaint in court against the Icelandic government. Alternatively, they could press for an amendment to include secular lifestance organizations among the registered religions.

A lawsuit could have taken up to a decade to work its way through Icelandic and European courts and cost millions. So with the support of the Norwegian Humanists, sympathetic MPs and the then Minister of Domestic Affairs in Iceland, Siðmennt managed in January 2013 to secure a change in the law. The law now recognizes registered religions and lifestance organizations. Siðmennt met the requirements of the new law and in May 2013 was granted equal status and funding with religious groups. This change also meant that all marriage ceremonies conducted by Siðmennt's celebrants would be legally recognized.

Photo via Siðmennt.

Siðmennt has been performing secular confirmation or coming-of-age ceremonies since 1989. In 2015 they performed 304 ceremonies, representing 7.5% of all Icelandic confirmations performed that year.

Siðmennt first started performing Humanist weddings at the end of 2007 but their ceremonies were not recognized until the amendment passed in May 2013. Prior to that couples had to also go to a district commissioner for a legal ceremony. Siðmennt officiants performed 56 marriage ceremonies in 2014 and 85 in 2015. Today Siðmennt has 41 trained celebrants.

Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Ceremonies  1 5 7 10 9 11 36 56 125 166

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Private correspondence: Hope Knutsson, Bjarni Jónsson

Emilía S Ólafsdóttir Kaaber, "Popularity of Civil Weddings Grows", Iceland Review, July 9, 2015.

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