Boom in marriages not made in heaven

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THEY are the fastest growing type of wedding in Scotland, but God is definitely not invited.

A surge in Humanist marriages means they have overtaken Episcopal ceremonies for the first time.

Such is the rise in popularity of non-religious unions that the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) predicts they will outnumber Catholic weddings within two years.

Since they were first made legal in Scotland the number of Humanist marriages have risen from 82 in 2005 to 710 last year.

Now the society has revealed that it expects to marry more than 1,000 couples this year and predicts it will help 1,500 more to tie the knot in 2009.

These increases mean that Humanist wedding numbers have almost certainly leapfrogged those of the Scottish Episcopal Church, which hosted 758 marriages in 2007, and brings them close to the 1,953 of the Catholic Church in Scotland.

Last year the Church of Scotland carried out 8,000 weddings, but like all of the main Christian denominations its numbers have declined year on year.

Humanists espouse living a moral life without religious or supernatural beliefs, and couples looking to marry require only to express a faith in each other.

HSS spokesman Gordon Ross said: "We are absolutely delighted by the incredible progress we have made in such a short period of time.

"We expect our weddings will break the 1,000 barrier in 2008 and with many hundreds of weddings already booked for next year we expect to marry 1,500 couples next year.

"It means we are going to hold more weddings than the Episcopalians this year and at the rate things are going we are confident we will be able to overtake the Catholic Church by 2010."

But Ross said that the organisation had become a victim of its own success. "Our biggest problem now is how we are going to cope with the demand," he said. "We are training as many celebrants, who carry out the weddings, as we can."

Food writer and voiceover artist Juliet Wilson and her husband Tim decided to become celebrants after they were married in a Humanist wedding.

The 33-year-old from Edinburgh said: "We were so touched by the ceremony and by Humanism in general that we want to play a part in it.

"Our ceremonies are very personal. We encourage couples to express what marriage and commitment means to them so it is very meaningful and enjoyable."

Best-selling novelist Christopher Brookmyre, who is president of the HSS, felt that the increase in Humanist weddings was largely down to their greater availability.

He said: "For a long time lots of people got married in religious ceremonies because that was how things had always been done or to keep their families happy. Now that this option is open to them lots of people who aren't particularly religious are considering Humanist ceremonies.

"People are realising that you can have weddings with more of a resonance and sense of occasion without having to inject the supernatural into the equation."

However, the former practising Catholic was reluctant to be drawn on the idea of Humanist weddings overtaking those of some Christian denominations, saying: "I don't want to look at this as a league table."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Episcopal Church pointed out that the official wedding figures would not be released by the General Register Office for Scotland until the end of the year, but said they were working hard to broaden their appeal.

She said: "Earlier this year we were the first Scottish church to take part in the Scottish Wedding Show. We have also reviewed our marriage liturgy to create a balance about what the Church wants to say about God's love and what couples getting married want to say about their love and commitment to one another."

The Catholic Church in Scotland was sceptical about the HSS's claims, stating: "Christian marriages are currently well ahead of Humanist ceremonies and in reality are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future."

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: "We still consider there is something beautiful and profound about two people wanting to commit to each other in the sight of God and we believe that they will continue to want to do so."

The HSS is also considering the idea of running a publicity campaign on the sides of buses in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Last week the British Humanist Association paid 40,000 for signs stating "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life" on 30 buses in London.

Taking the moral high ground

A guide to Humanist weddings

Scotland is the only UK country, and one of only six in the world, where Humanist weddings are legal. Although Humanist ceremonies are classified by the Registrar General of Scotland as a form of religious marriage, the belief system is secular. Adherents believe in living moral and worthwhile lives guided by reason and compassion and a shared humanity.

Humanist wedding ceremonies do not require to take place in a licensed venue and can be carried out anywhere deemed "safe and dignified". This has led to marriages being held in locations ranging from Edinburgh Zoo to the top of Ben Nevis.

Couples write their own wedding vows.