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High Court to hear challenge next week over legal recognition of humanist marriages

The High Court will next week (7-8 July) hear a challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales.

The challenge is being brought by six couples and is being supported by Humanists UK.

Their lawyers will argue that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination, Humanists UK said.

It added: “Parliament gave the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013 but no Government has used it. In the time since then, over 6,000 couples have been denied legal recognition for their humanist wedding, either having to go to a state registrar for an unwanted second ceremony in order to gain legal recognition, or not be legally married.”

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant who shares the beliefs and values of the couple.

“It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely personalised and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple,” Humanists UK said.

More than 1,000 couples a year have a humanist wedding in England and Wales. They all must have a separate civil marriage – usually at a registrar’s office – for their marriage to be legally recognised.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: ‘Couples who have humanist weddings see that day as the epitome of their love and commitment to each other, and all they want is the same legal recognition for that as is given to every religious person in our country.

“We have tried for decades to address this glaring double standard. Government has dragged its heels and that’s why it’s been left to these couples to bring this case. As more and more non-religious couples choose to have humanist weddings, we need a law that works for all people who want to marry and we hope this case will lead to reform.’

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar Library of Northern Ireland.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: “The time for asking to be accommodated is over. The Courts are now the only appropriate and realistic method of moving this issue on. Following a successful case in Northern Ireland momentum is on our side and I believe couples who look forward to a legally recognised humanist ceremony should take great heart and hope from that.”

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