Marriage in the United Kingdom


Currently, Scotland is the only country in the UK that recognizes the solemnization of Humanist marriages.

In June 2005, the Registrar General for Scotland began providing temporary authorizations to some Humanist celebrants to solemnize marriages. In 2014, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act broadened the “religious” category of marriage to “religious or belief bodies” and thereby gave equal footing to Humanist and other belief bodies with traditional religious groups.

Since it was first permitted to perform marriages, the Humanist Society of Scotland has seen an incredible rise in the popularity of Humanist weddings, each year surpassing the last. In 2013, Humanist ceremonies overtook Catholic weddings in Scotland and were second only to Church of Scotland ceremonies. According to the National Records of Scotland (2015), the number of Church of Scotland marriages performed from 2003 to 2015 declined from 10,016 to 4,052.

In 2015, there were 4,290 Humanist marriages, surpassing the number performed Church of Scotland. Three-quarters of the Humanist ceremonies were performed by the Humanist Society of Scotland and its 155 celebrants. The remainder were carried out by two other organizations in Scotland: Independent Humanist Ceremonies (557) and Humanist Fellowship of Scotland (355). Those latter two organizations only began performing marriages following the 2014 amendment.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Marriage in the rest of the United Kingdom is governed similarly to most Canadian provinces. As such Humanists are unable to perform legal ceremonies there. The British Humanist Association has been campaigning for the law in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland to follow the precedent set in Scotland. It has called on the governments for legislation to facilitate Humanist marriage. In surveys of their members and submissions to the government, there has been great support in favour of changing law but still they have been unable to move forward in the process.

The previous coalition government conducted a public consultation on the issue which ran from June 26 to September 18, 2014. That consultation found that over 90% of respondents were in favour of changing the law. Ignoring the voice of the overwhelming majority, the government rejected the British Humanist Association's proposal stating that “it would not be appropriate to legislate solely for the non-religious belief organizations, as this would create further anomalies in the law.” The government claimed that the marriage law was very outdated and needed to be reformed on many matters before they would consider amending it to include non-religious ceremonies. In December 2014, The Sunday Times reported that strategists within the Prime Minister’s office blocked changes, referring to it as a “fringe” issue.

The British Humanist Association continues to lobby for an amendment to the Marriage Act.

Despite lacking the legal authority to solemnize marriages, the British Humanist Association still operates a comprehensive Humanist Ceremonies program that trains celebrants to perform funerals, (non-solemnized) weddings and naming ceremonies. There are currently over 300 Humanist celebrants performing ceremonies in the UK.

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