Unlike Scotland, so far the UK government has refused to permit the concept of Humanist weddings. It almost happened prior to the UK election, but then David Cameron stepped in and despite all parties granting support, blocked it because it was deemed to be a fringe issue.
So what evidence was there for that?
None at all.
What is fascinating in this context is that Scotland has had Humanist weddings for about ten years, and so if indeed it is a “fringe” issue, then the actual numbers of Humanist weddings should be minimal and only a tiny fraction when compared to the other variations. Well, it turns out that the reality of what is happening in Scotland is something rather un-fringe like. Herald Scotland reports …
Ten years after humanist weddings were legalised, the ceremonies now rival church marriages
…The first humanist wedding took place on June 18 2005, with less than 100 humanist weddings taking place that year. Now the Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) predicts it is on course to conduct more than 4000 weddings in 2015 and outstrip the Church of Scotland for the first time.
The most recent figures show 4,616 out of 13,523 marriages conducted by religious or belief organisations in 2013 were Church of Scotland, with the HSS conducting 3,185. The figure for the Roman Catholic Church was 1,582, with humanist weddings overtaking Catholic marriages in 2010.
The HSS also carried out one of the first same-sex marriages when they became legal in Scotland this year, with Malx Brown and Joe Schofield tying the knot in Glasgow at the stroke of midnight on Hogmanay.
However Scotland is still the only country in the UK and one of only six in the world where humanist marriages are legal – along with Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and Ireland. Some parts of the USA also permit humanist weddings.
So if indeed “fringe” is the label you apply to something this popular, then I dread to think what words they would come up with for things that are not actually popular at all.
So why is it like this?
The majority of people are not strongly religious, that is the reality of the UK and Scotland today, and yet getting married is a special event, so people do want something more than simply signing at the registry office within a local council building, hence the rising popularity.
To give you a brief idea of what actually goes on at a Humanist wedding, here are a few Q&A’s from the Humanist Weddings FAQ …
What happens at a wedding ceremony?
Each ceremony is written specifically for the couple; there is no set format. But as a guide, a typical wedding might include readings or poems, information about the couple and why they are choosing to marry and perhaps some music. The couple will make vows or commitments to each other and often exchange rings. A sample structure of a humanist wedding is shown here.
Does having a humanist wedding involve a lot of work?
It definitely takes more time and thought to arrange a humanist ceremony than a standard church or civil wedding, but it’s well worth the effort. You will end up with a ceremony that reflects the two of you, what you value and your hopes for the future, and an occasion that is truly unique and personal. An added bonus is that most couples find the planning process interesting and fun too. For example, one recently married couple commented:
“I wholeheartedly recommend a humanist wedding. It is so customisable that it can surmount any boundaries of religion, culture or language. As with anything bespoke it does take a bit more time to consider material you would like the ceremony to contain, but it is so worth it. You will have a ceremony that is 100% you.”
Do you offer same-sex weddings?
We certainly do. Indeed, BHA celebrants have been conducting ceremonies for same sex couples for at least two decades and were instrumental in successfully campaigning for legal same-sex marriage.
We got married abroad and want another ceremony for friends and family here. Can you do this?
Yes, we’d be happy to create such an occasion for you – in fact many of our wedding ceremonies take place under similar circumstances. We can make the humanist ceremony a wedding in itself or think of it as a celebration of your marriage – whatever suits you best. That said, in practice most couples in such circumstances choose to make promises to each other and (re)exchange rings.
We’re not actually humanists – or at least we don’t think we are. Can we still have a humanist wedding ceremony?
Absolutely. Our ceremonies are available to anyone who wants a non-religious, personal and meaningful way to celebrate their marriage. (And many people then discover they are actually humanist in outlook without having realised it – our ‘Are you a humanist?’ quiz is a fun way to find out.)
My grandmother / aunt / dad etc. is religious and I don’t want them to be offended. Will a humanist wedding be okay?
We recognise that nearly every ceremony is attended by guests of different faiths and of none, and feel passionately that everyone present should feel comfortable and involved.
The focus of your humanist wedding will be on the two of you and your relationship and what you value. Underpinning it all will be the humanist view of long-term partnerships as being strongest when built upon support, equality and honesty. It’s difficult to imagine anyone would have a problem with that!
So yes, if you are not religious, a trip to the local registry office is not your only choice, there are also some far better alternatives, and I would argue that it is orders of magnitude better than anything on offer from the various religious alternatives.
Only in Scotland?
Well yes, only in Scotland can you be legally married as part of a humanist ceremony, but for the rest of the UK you can still do the paperwork in the registry office and follow up with a proper Humanist ceremony.
Perhaps one day the rest of the UK will join with forward-thinking Scotland in the 21st century.