Julian Huppert MP writes.. A step towards humanist weddings

Humanist Wedding Ceremony - 16One of the Liberal Democrats greatest achievements in Government has been the successful passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act. On Saturday 29 March 2014 the first same-sex marriages took place, a date I am certain will go down in history.

Most of the positive speeches given during the debates in Westminster concentrated not around gay or straight but on the belief that everyone has a fundamental right to love who they want and demonstrate that love together in a manner of their choosing.

And yet still in England we ban many weddings. In particular, humanist ceremonies are not allowed. More and more people are having humanist funerals, and anyone who has attend one will acknowledge they are moving and well run.

In Scotland, humanist marriage ceremonies are fully legal – as in Australia, Canada, Iceland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and some parts of the US.

The UK has been slow to catch up and during the passage I and other colleagues in the Commons and the Lords pressed for humanist ceremonies to be legally recognised. We faced a barrage of rather bizarre obstacles – including a suggestion that humanism was similar to tiddlywinks – but after much effort it was agreed that it could happen, subject to a consultation. Simon Hughes has been pressing to make sure it happens, and at long last it has.

I find it hard to imagine who would be harmed by allowing those with humanist beliefs to celebrate a marriage in their own way. So I’d urge everyone who has a view on this issue to submit it to the consultation: we need to make it clear that equality means equality for everyone.


* Julian Huppert was the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge from 2010-15

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  • matt (Bristol) 26th Jun '14 - 3:46pm

    Disestablishment instead, please Julian, and a complete distinction beween the signing of legal paperwork police by the state and anything of any kind which has religious or ethical / ritual / ceremonial significance. Then we can all do more or less do what we want regardless of legal challenge.

    What we don’t need is an endless extended fudge so that people of all religions and none get to share in the muddy waters which us Christians have created for ourselves over centuries.

  • matt (Bristol) 26th Jun '14 - 3:47pm

    sorry, I meant ‘policed by the state’ but maybe ‘administered by the state’ was better.

  • Peter Hayes 26th Jun '14 - 4:06pm

    I suspect Matt is thinking of the French model, a civil ceremony to create the legal status followed by anything your beliefs (or none) and family want. Only the first is legally required and it only needs to be undone for a divorce, of course your religion may not recognise the divorce but that is a personal problem not a state one.

  • matt (Bristol) 26th Jun '14 - 4:13pm

    Yes Peter, that is more or less what I mean; the extent to which the state wishes to sponsor the ‘ceremonial’ nature of contracting a marriage may vary, but the state should ideally be neutral between religious denominations and adherences, as much as possible.

  • Lapsed from Bath 26th Jun '14 - 4:36pm

    What Matt said – spot on

  • matt (Bristol) 26th Jun '14 - 5:22pm

    Reading this again, I find that Julian has conflated the act of ratifying a marriage for legal purposes with ‘wedding’ (not exactly accurate, as ceremonial weddings can be carried out that do not ratify a legal marriage) and applied a mis-equivalence with ‘funeral’, which is again a ceremonial matter and not a legal one – the acts that are legally regulated are burial and cremation.

  • Richard Church 26th Jun '14 - 9:11pm

    How long do you think it will be before the UK adopts French system of civil weddings? It’s not going to happen in our lifetimes. Disestablishment needs to happen, but its not relevant to this issue, pleanty of religions other than the established Church of England are entitled to perform legally recognised marriage ceremonies, but not humanists.

    This is a great step forward in the recognition of non religious ceremonies. Delighted to have been part of making it Lib Dem policy three years ago and now look forward to seeing it become law.

  • Strongly agree with Richard.

    Politics is the art of the possible:
    * we CAN achieve legally-recognised humanist weddings soon; it would mean a lot to many couples, and would remove another blatant and indefensible area of discrimination against the non-religious;
    * we CANNOT achieve the total separation of religious weddings and legal marriage, on the French model, without a total reworking of marriage law.

    We can debate whether the French model of marriage is better than the British one, but it isn’t going to happen in the UK any time in the near future.

  • No, what’s bizarre is that some people want the government to decide what is a religion and what is non-religion, and deny the existence of a host of intermediate points between the two.

  • Julian Tisi 27th Jun '14 - 7:05pm

    Speaking from a Christian perspective I don’t see any objection to having humanist weddings. But I’m not sure I agree with Stephen W – a civil wedding is not automatically a humanist wedding. But perhaps you meant that someone who was humanist could make their civil wedding as such? To me, humanism is another belief system, like a religious belief, even if its adherents wouldn’t want to see it that way. As a recognised belief system I can’t see any reason why humanists should not be allowed to hold humanist wedding ceremonies.

    I don’t agree with moving to a French system though. Apart from anything else it seems incredibly cumbersome, having separate civil and religious ceremonies, whereas now you have the civil ceremony with the same vows, the same paperwork but incorporated into the religious service. I think separating the two completely is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

  • Matt (Bristol) 29th Jun '14 - 9:16pm

    Steven W, it is true that purely humanist marriage ceremonies with humanist celebrants cannot currently be combined into an ‘official’ registry office wedding; although many untrained may struggle to spot the difference to the usual a-religious registry office weddings with a small amount of ceremonial allowed.

    This is a bit silly at best and repressive at worst, of course and I guess correcting the discrepancy is small positive step which we should accept, but what worries me is that is leaves the basic assumption unchallenged (which of course goes back to the Book of Common Prayer) that the state should have even a mild say in or at least influence over the ceremonial / religious content of marriage ceremonies.

    Those of us of a more conservative religious bent would also it like to be clear that the state cannot interfere in how we conduct marriage ceremonies / blessings that are purely religious in content, ie where churches are not acting on behalf of the state. This would provide those churches who may in future choose not to conduct same-sex marriage (to take a current, but not perhaps the only instance) but do not mind what the state does, with cast-iron protection from legal action against them. This is not a problem that does not exist, obscure and maybe unlikely as it may seem.

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