Humanism In The News: Lower Divorce Rates in Humanist Marriages, Scotland Study Shows


Divorce rates are on the decline as external pressures to marry decrease. However, some marriage demographics have higher rates of divorce than others. Marriage and divorce data from Scotland in 2019 reveals that couples married in humanist ceremonies are four times less likely to get divorced

Humanists UK used a freedom of information request to secure the newest data on Scottish divorces. This particular study included marriage ceremonies that were humanist, civil, Catholic, with the Church of Scotland, or other. It compared the number of marriages to number of divorces for Scottish couples in 2017-18 for each demographic. Only 0.25% of couples who chose a humanist marriage ceremony got divorced, as compared to 0.84% of couples who were wed in other ceremonies. This contrast remains true across a range of marriage lengths, be it 5 to 10 years, or 10 to 15 years of marriage. 

There are some restrictions to this data. Other demographics, like age, socioeconomic status, previous marriages, and children, could influence the data that suggest humanist marriages have lower rates of divorce, but the study did not disclose that information. Additionally, Scotland only began legally recognizing humanist marriages in 2005. It will be interesting to see if future data allow us to draw similar conclusions. Regardless, studies like these are encouraging for humanists and non-humanists alike, as well as anyone fighting for legal recognition of humanist marriages. 

What Makes A Humanist Marriage Unique?

Humanist weddings are non-religious and conducted by a humanist celebrant. Couples married in a humanist ceremony have lots of agency: they write their own vows and script. Each humanist wedding is unique in this way; a true celebration of the couple getting married. The ceremony could include music, poetry, readings, or anything that the couple wants to include.  

For some humanists, Humanism might be an intentionally-chosen worldview, rather than a faith passed from parent to child. A shared worldview has the potential to really unite a couple. The element of choice, of choosing into humanism, could influence the couple’s shared worldview and consequently the longevity of a humanist marriage. The intentionality of humanism as an ideology could have the same effect on a couple, even if their humanist beliefs were not chosen, but part of a family practice. 

Legal Recognition of Humanist Marriages in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland 

Some of Scotland’s neighboring countries are slower to recognize humanist ceremonies legally. Northern Ireland began to legally recognize humanist marriages in 2018. England and Wales have yet to legally recognize humanist marriages, despite a poll that suggests almost 70% of British people hope to see humanist marriages legally recognized in both England and Wales. Currently, couples hoping to have a humanist marriage in England and Wales are allowed to have a humanist ceremony, but it holds no legal bearing. The couple also has to register through the civil courts. However, the Treasury might be reviewing rules concerning wedding venues for humanist ceremonies in England and Wales, which could pave the road for legal recognition in the years to come. The Republic of Ireland granted humanist marriages legal recognition in 2012. 

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