Humanist Marriage Legal in England and Wales – Why Ever Not?

Posted on 2nd July 2020

On July 7th and 8th, six couples will go to the High Court.  They’ll argue the case that people with humanist beliefs have the same right to have their marriage legally recognised as others.

At the moment, those who want a humanist wedding have to also have a register office ceremony. That’s if they want their marriage to be legally recognised.  And there are several problems with that.


Other people don’t have to do this in order to be legally married.  If you want a Jewish, Christian, Quaker or even Scientologist wedding, you don’t have to go through a two-stage process.  But Humanists don’t at present have the right to be legally married by someone who shares the same belief system as them.


Looking at East Sussex, where I live, as an example, the cost of a register office ceremony as advertised on the website ranges from £183 to £748.  This depends on which office you go to, and which day of the week you choose.  All local authorities are supposed to have a basic form of ceremony which is much cheaper than this.  However, it’s usually almost impossible to find on their website.  You have to ring them up and put them through the third degree before they’ll tell you.


Humanist weddings have legal status in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Jersey, and Guernsey has voted to allow them too.  Why are they not legal in England and Wales?


Listen to what Claire, whose wedding I officiated last year, says about her experience

“About a week before our beautiful, personal, meaningful humanist wedding (where Felicity was our celebrant) we had to go to the local registry office and ‘do the paperwork’ except it was more than that as they made an effort to make it special for us. That effort was lost on us and made it all the more uncomfortable.
“The registrar even picked a poem for us which when she started reading made me well up because it was a poem I had chosen for our humanist wedding. I wasn’t moved by the moment in the way she had expected, but saddened that our witnesses heard that poem before our special day when a person to whom it meant something was going to read it in front of our family and friends. The legal ceremony was not even ‘going through the motions’ as I’d thought of it, it was an outright unwanted part of our wedding week and I wish it hadn’t been necessary.
“Bring on legal humanist weddings!”


If you feel this is ridiculous, please contact your MP and tell them.  Even if the High Court rules in the couples’ favour, in the end the change needs to go through Parliament.  It’s not a big deal – it was agreed in principle back in 2013, so it would only take about 90 minutes of parliamentary time to make the change.  Please do this small thing to help make a lot of people happy!









Return to news