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Are Humanist Weddings Legal?

At this time of writing, humanist ceremonies are sadly not legally recognised in England or Wales. They have been legally recognised in Scotland since 2005 (and are by some margin the most chosen form of non-civil ceremony there), and have been recently recognised in Jersey and Northern Ireland. Guernsey, Alderney and Sark saw legal recognition for their humanist marriages come into effect in March 2021. 

So where does that leave us? Over to Humanists UK themselves:

In England and Wales, the Marriage Act 2013 created a new category of legally recognised marriage – “marriages according to the usages of belief based organisations”. This category was created by the UK Parliament so that the Government could enact legal recognition to humanist marriages by secondary legislation. But in the many years since, the Government has still not enacted this. With over 1,000 couples a year already having humanist wedding ceremonies that are not legally recognised, Humanists UK is urging the UK Government to act swiftly and bring about legal recognition. Humanists UK supported six couples in taking a court case against the UK Government over this matter in July 2020. High Court judge Mrs Justice Eady DBE ruled that the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages means that “the present law gives rise to… discrimination”. She also ruled that, in light of that, the Secretary of State for Justice “cannot… simply sit on his hands” and do nothing.

In November 2021, Senedd Cymru declared its support for immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages, telling the UK Government that this issue should be resolved now, or else devolved to Wales. And in January 2022, a debate was raised in Parliament to urge Ministers to immediately legally recognise humanist marriage in England Wales so that all of the UK would be equally progressive in this matter, and the discrimination that Mrs Justice Eady ruled was present in 2020 would be resolved. The Law Commission 400-page report Getting Married was published on 19th July 2022, recommending (amongst other things) that humanist marriage be legally recognised. Hopefully Mrs Justice Eady’s faith that the Government will act in good faith and lay the Order to enact the Commission’s recommendation will not be in vain.

The debate is currently unfolding.

And what does that mean for you? Well, it means that humanist marriages will be legalised in the future: it is a case of “when” not “if”. I only wish I could give my couples an exact date…!

In the meantime, this is not a barrier to choosing a humanist ceremony. One can purchase statutory legal registration from your local register office for as little as £57 (I can advise you how to get the statutory price), and this can be done days before your humanist ceremony, or even on the day itself. It is a human right to be able to access a statutory ceremony, and every register office must offer it.

Is a Humanist ceremony a real wedding then?

Regardless of current legal status, I would always assert that your humanist wedding ceremony will feel like your “real” wedding on the day. Every single one of my couples – and their guests too! – back this up with enthusiastic testimonial, as you will find on every page of this site! Also, having had one myself, I can tell you from personal experience that the feelings you have in your humanist wedding ceremony are the real deal: the real love and the real commitment. You can’t get realer than that!

Think of it this way: you register a birth, but you don’t have a huge party and celebrate that happening – it is just a formality. You also register a death, but it isn’t the funeral or wake. The legal requirements of a marriage, although of course necessary, are not rooted in love and sentiment. 

“Nat created a humanist ceremony that suited us perfectly & that was filled with joy”

– ANNIE & MAX

In my opinion, the real wedding is the event where you declare your mutual love and commitment in front of those who are the most dear to you.

This will be the ceremony you and your friends and family remember, talk fondly about, and hold in your hearts.

Rupert and Mike, gay humanist wedding ceremony in York