Law will recognise humanist marriages

Holyrood is set to introduce a category for unions of non-religious believers
Holyrood is set to introduce a category for unions of non-religious believers
Share this article
Have your say

A NEW type of marriage is set to be introduced in Scotland as more couples tying the knot turn away from organised religion.

The growing popularity of humanist ceremonies has been recognised by the Scottish Government, which is to enshrine in statute a category dubbed “belief” marriages as an alternative to religious or civil ceremonies.

Humanists define humanism as a belief system grounded in the doctrine that humans can live ethical and fulfilling lives based on reason, without reliance on religion or superstition.

Humanist weddings had previously been included in religious ceremonies.

The plans are set out in the marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill which will also see the introduction of same-sex marriage in Scotland.

The move to introduce the new belief ceremonies has been welcomed by Tim Maguire, of the Humanist Society of Scotland.

“It was this slightly strange situation that humanists ceremonies were being counted if you like in the same [religious] category, but clearly we’re rather different,” said Maguire, who carries out weddings himself.

“We’re neither civil, nor religious, but humanism is a belief so it recognises that. I think it’s a recognition of the extraordinary growth in popularity of the ceremonies.”

He added: “There is a very deep distinction between a religion and a philosophy and a dogma. A religion is a dogma and there are laws that people who are members of a faith have to follow. If you’re a Catholic then there’s a lot of guidance about your belief given to you.”

He said that humanist ceremonies, in allowing people to make their own vows, made them relevant to their own lives, rather than asking them to agree to a series of commands that they did not feel connected to.

Maguire said: “We think we’re responsible for our lives. It’s up to us to create meaning in them and a wedding ceremony is where you get to say what your life is about in front of the people who matter most to you.”

Scotland is one of only six countries in the world where humanist marriage ceremonies are legally conducted. The others are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and certain states in the US.

There were fewer than 100 humanist weddings in 2005, when they were first introduced, but in the last year, humanist celebrants have married 2,846 couples in Scotland.

This compares with 1,729 couples who chose the Catholic Church to marry them last year, and 5,557 who chose the Church of Scotland.

Dr Stuart Waiton, a sociology lecturer with Abertay University, said that while many people were not religious in a formal sense, they felt that marking their marriage with a civil ceremony lacked significance.

He added: “Humanist ceremonies give more meaning to the process. Very few people who have humanist ceremonies join the Humanist Society after.”

The draft Bill stipulates provisions to: “Establish a third category of marriage ceremony in Scotland. This category of ceremony would be known as ‘belief’. The arrangements for authorising ‘belief’ celebrants will be along the same lines as for authorising religious celebrants.”

The draft also lays out arrangements for authorising same-sex humanist ceremonies, stating that the system will be opt-in, “with bodies and celebrants having to choose to take part in same-sex ceremonies”.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to a Scotland that is fair and equal and that is why we intend to proceed with plans to allow same-sex marriage and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships.

“Our current consultation on same-sex marriage proposes the establishment of a new form of marriage ceremony called ‘belief’ which would cover humanists.”

Twitter: @sloan1874