Last week saw a very special wedding at Cromlix House near Dunblane. On Thursday, the marriage of Alasdair and Louise Jack by HSS Registered Celebrant Melanie Leckie was a very special day. Special not only for the couple, their family and friends, but also for the Humanist movement and indeed Scotland.
Alasdair and Louise mark 50,000 people married by the Humanist Society Scotland in a legal ceremony. This is a landmark moment representing how Scotland has changed in its views towards religion and how more couples are choosing ceremonies that speak to their own beliefs and ethics.
Since 2005, Humanist Society Scotland have been carrying out legally recognised weddings. We started through temporary permissions and then, very appropriately, on Valentine’s Day this year our charity received the same legal recognition as the Catholic, Episcopalian and other church groups.
This legal change rightly reflects the 12 years Humanist Society Scotland has demonstrated it’s legitimacy as the voice of Humanism in Scotland and its reliability to take that position seriously. It also reflects the change in Scottish society. In the 2001 census, 28 per cent of Scottish adults said they had no religion, but by the 2014 Scottish Household Survey this had leapt to 47 per cent.
Another landmark in this trend came in August last year when figures were published showing that the number of Humanist weddings outstripped those performed by the Church of Scotland, Scotland’s largest performer of religious weddings. Humanist Society Scotland now officiates around 3,500 weddings a year, a massive rise from the 82 carried out when we started in 2005. Polling carried out by YouGov in 2016 showed how 58 per cent of Scots have attended a Humanist ceremony and a further third at least knew about them existing. Humanism is not a fringe movement as some of its detractors seek to paint it. It is now firmly driving the thinking and ethics of the mainstream of Scottish couples and families.
Too often it is assumed by some in more traditional quarters that 21st century weddings, especially among younger couples, are all about putting on a show or having the biggest and best party. The experience of our celebrants couldn’t be further from this; it’s all about couples wanting to celebrate their love in a way that is meaningful to them. That might include a party or might be a quiet elopement, but a ceremony reflecting the couple and their beliefs and values, conducted by a Celebrant who shares those values is central.
Without Humanist weddings we know that marriage would be in a much more substantial decline overall in Scotland. Committed couples who previously felt locked out of marriage because it didn’t accept them or speak to their beliefs and values now openly choose Humanist ceremonies. While some religious groups only now are reconsidering their acceptance of same-sex couples, Humanist Society Scotland will be eternally proud of their commitment to same-sex marriages and that we were so heavily involved in the campaign to legalise them in the first place.
Around the world too, most notably across Europe, Humanist weddings are a relatively rare option to couples – including across the other parts of the UK, although that may soon be about to change after a recent legal ruling in Northern Ireland. Scotland is currently joined by only Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Iceland and some US states in offering the growing global community of non-religious people a marriage that meaningfully speaks to them.
Humanist Society Scotland is working with our sister Humanist groups across the world to help them bring the love and joy through Humanist marriage to their countries.
Lynsey Kidd is Head of Ceremonies for the Humanist Society Scotland