A total of 4,290 weddings were conducted by humanists in 2015, figures from National Records of Scotland revealed. The Church of Scotland had always carried out most of the country’s weddings, other than civil ceremonies, but last year saw the Kirk fall back to 4,052 ceremonies.
Humanist Society Scotland (HSS) conducted more than three-quarters of all humanist marriages in Scotland, with others being conducted by two independent providers.
The society secured a change in policy in 2005 which allowed Scotland to become one of the first countries in the world to permit humanist weddings.
In the decade since it secured the landmark ruling, the society has seen the number of weddings it carries out increase every year.
HSS chief executive Gordon MacRae puts the rise in popularity down to the “values of equality and human rights”, which he says are at the heart of the humanist movement.
He said: “The phenomenal rise in humanist ceremonies is being fuelled by the desire of wedding couples for a non-religious ceremony that provides a day reflecting their personalities and can be inclusive of their friends and family.
“The move towards humanist celebrations and away from religious ceremonies mirrors the changed demographics of Scotland in 2015.
“It shows that more and more people in Scotland are opting for a rational and empathic approach to life.
“Our approach is to celebrate the one life we have and clearly this is resonating with thousands of couples all across the country.”
Since 2005 the HSS has carried out more than 20,000 weddings with ceremonies talking place in a range of venues including football grounds and people’s back gardens.
The organisation now has 115 celebrants – who also carry out funerals and baby-naming ceremonies – across the country and is set to run a campaign to recruit more.
Meanwhile the two other Humanist organisations – Independent Humanist Ceremonies and Humanist Fellowship of Scotland – have also both seen a rise in popularity. Combined, they carried out 912 weddings in Scotland last year – compared to 382 in 2014.
Overall in 2015, 29,691 marriages took place in Scotland. More than half of that number – 15,583 – involved civil ceremonies. In line with an ongoing trend, the total number of marriages carried out dropped as fewer couples opt to tie the knot.
Despite fewer couples marrying and the rise in humanist weddings, the Church of Scotland says many couples still prefer to wed in their local church. The Kirk points to the fact that Church of Scotland marriages topped the list of ceremonies conducted by religious and beliefs-based celebrants - with the total of humanist ceremonies split among three bodies.
Rev Norman Smith, Convener of the Kirks’ Mission and Discipleship Council, said: “When couples stand in church where generations have stood before pledging their love to one another, it is a reminder that human love endures.
“The Church of Scotland has always stood with the people of Scotland and helped them take this step together.
“That is still the case and we would encourage anyone considering marriage to remember their local church.”
Despite growing in popularity in Scotland humanist weddings have yet to be made legal anywhere else in the UK. Currently only seven other countries have legalised them – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Iceland and parts of the US.
Roman Catholic Church weddings were the third most popular in Scotland last year with 1,438 taking place.