Six UK couples have lost a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages.
The High Court found that, despite constituting “discrimination”, humanist weddings are not legally recognised in the same way as religious ceremonies, but stopped short of saying the government is acting illegally.
Under current law, couples marrying in a humanist ceremony must have a separate ceremony at a registry office to have their marriage legally recognised. Without the second civil ceremony, their marriage would not be acknowledged by law.
This is in contrast to Scotland and Northern Ireland, where humanist weddings are legally accepted.
The couples brought legal action to seek a declaration that the UK government’s refusal to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales was a breach of their human rights.
The government argued that the couples had no right to humanist marriages, on the basis that humanist marriages are not sufficiently connected to humanism to merit legal protection.
At the same time, they also argued that English law already provides for humanist marriages by way of civil marriage.
Judge Mrs Justice Eady DBE rejected the government’s arguments, saying that there is an intimate link between couples’ beliefs and their choice of a humanist ceremony, reasoning.
The Judge held that the current rules do “give rise to…discrimination”, stating that the Secretary of State for Justice “cannot…simply sit on his hands” and do nothing about the difference in the way non-religious marriages are treated.
On losing their case, one of the couples said that while they are disappointed with the judgment, they are “pleased that the judge has clearly acknowledged that the lack of legal recognition of humanist marriages is discrimination and we remain hopeful that this recognition will be reflected in a change to the marriage laws.”
A review of marriage laws is currently being carried out by the Law Commission. At court, the government went on record to say the consultation would be published in early September.
The Judge concluded that “it is at least now not a matter of if humanist marriages will be legally recognised but when.”