In June, the Belfast Court of Appeals ruled that humanist marriages must be legally recognized. Two months later, Northern Ireland saw its first humanist marriage.
Let’s start with what it means to have a humanist marriage. This wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is often deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. The ceremony is hand-crafted and reflective of the couple’s humanist beliefs and values, and it is conducted by a person who shares these beliefs and values. It sounds like a standard religious ceremony—just without the religious overtones and usual pomp and circumstance.
On August 26th, 2018, Alanna McCaffrey and Ronan Johnson were married in a humanist ceremony. The couple explained why they chose this option over others: “We’re a non-religious couple, and we wanted a very personalized and meaningful ceremony for our marriage. That’s why we want a humanist one—because you can customize it to suit yourself. It seemed the most meaningful option for us, and we’re delighted that such ceremonies will now be legally recognized.”
While humanists have not been denied the right to marriage, it has been a gradual process for the solemnization of humanist marriages in the U.K. In Northern Ireland, it has, essentially, come down to two citizens fighting for what they believe in. In 2017, two humanists campaigned for legal recognition and solemnization rights for humanist marriages. Supported by Humanists UK, they took their case to court in an attempt to change the law. The High Court ruled in their favor, but the decision regarding other humanist couples pended approval by the Court of Appeals of the Northern Ireland Government. In June of 2018, that approval was granted.
Since humanist marriages gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005, they have had a transformative effect. In that country, it is now the second most popular type of marriage. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In England and Wales, humanist marriages are yet to be recognized legally.
Northern Ireland’s decision to grant legal recognition to humanist marriages marks an important shift in the conversation taking place in the U.K. We can only hope this trend continues.