Back in court
Today I was back in court for our case on legal recognition of Humanist Marriages in Northern Ireland.
The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal has heard the Government’s appeal to the Belfast High Court ruling extending legal recognition to humanist marriages in Northern Ireland. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court decided to issue a further stay on the High Court ruling, in order that the different parties in the case can have more time to attempt to negotiate a compromise solution.
So no definitive outcome as of yet.
All Eunan and I wanted is a legal marriage ceremony that reflects our personal beliefs and desires, and for us that means a humanist ceremony. When such ceremonies are already given legal recognition in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, I struggle to see what the difficulty is in extending recognition to Northern Ireland too. We have now had our legal humanist wedding ceremony, but for the sake of many, many other couples like us, we very much hope that this extension to others is able to happen.
This has been a stressful and tense journey for my husband and I and although, as I just mentioned, our special day has been and gone and was everything we wanted and more, the fight isn’t yet over. All humanists should have a wedding day that is encompassing of them and their values. So although we got a personal win this undertaking of ours doesn’t stop with us.
Although this is still ongoing, I just want to thank human rights group Liberty for joining and supporting our case and Humanists UK for their continued support and guidance throughout. We’re very grateful!
The next day in court will be in November, so let’s see!
History of the case
We were denied our application of a Humanist wedding ceremony by the General Registrar and decided to take them to court. In June, the High ruled that the lack of legal recognition to humanist marriages in Northern Ireland breaks human rights law, by privileging religious believers (who can have legal marriages) over humanists. Humanists UK has been supporting us throughout.
That decision was subsequently appealed by the Northern Ireland Government to the Court of Appeal, which initially issued a stay on the decision, albeit while uniquely letting us have our legal humanist wedding ceremony taking place on 22 June 2017. Today the Court of Appeal resumed its hearing, to consider whether other couples should also be allowed to have legal humanist marriages.
Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘It was a privilege and a joy to attend Laura and Eunan’s legal humanist marriage and hear them share their vows in a ceremony reflecting their humanist beliefs and their love. The idea that other couples should now be prevented from having that same right and opportunity is reprehensible. Humanist marriages are already legal in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and we can’t see why non-religious people in Northern Ireland deserve anything less. Humanists UK will now be entering negotiations with the Registrar General, and very much hope that proves possible.’
Details of today’s decision
The Court today decided to again stay the decision, while inviting the parties to explore an alternative avenue to that which had been considered before, namely that the Registrar General can under section 31(3) of the Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 ‘appoint additional persons to solemnise civil marriages and carry out other functions’. Humanists UK has now been invited to work with a number of its celebrants to apply to be able to solemnise humanist marriages through this section.
Our celebrant had initially applied for authorisation (and won at the High Court) under section 14 – ‘temporary authorisation of religious marriage’ – successfully arguing that this should be reinterpreted to also cover belief-based marriages.
About humanist weddings
A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values.
Legal recognition has already had a transformative effect on Scottish and Irish society. In Scotland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2005, and have risen in number from 85 in the first year to over 4,900 in 2016, overtaking the Church of Scotland in the process. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2016 around seven percent of legal marriages were humanist, more than four times as many as there were (Protestant) Church of Ireland marriages.
In England and Wales, marriage law is different from Northern Ireland and Scotland. But as the case was taken on human rights grounds, the underlying principles are very similar, and so this case may have some impact. Since 2013 the UK Government has had the power to extend legal recognition if it wishes, but hasn’t chosen to use this power yet.
You can read more at Humanists UK
P.s we’ve decided to share a picture from our wedding!