Rising numbers of English couples head to Scotland for humanist weddings

Kate, 33, and Shaun Mountain, 33, are wed on the Isle of Skye. They didn't travel up from England for a humanist wedding, but many couples do. Picture: Andrew Rae/SWNS
Kate, 33, and Shaun Mountain, 33, are wed on the Isle of Skye. They didn't travel up from England for a humanist wedding, but many couples do. Picture: Andrew Rae/SWNS
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A growing number of English couples are crossing the border to tie the knot in humanist weddings because the marriages are not recognised without the appropriate certificate down south.

Celebrants say they are marrying large numbers of couples who feel forced to journey north to wed, without the need for a second civil ceremony to bring recognition in law to their union.

It has helped drive a massive hike in humanist ceremonies in Scotland over the past decade which look poised to overtake all religious ceremonies next year.

But the situation has been branded “ridiculous” by campaigners south of the border who are now stepping up calls for the UK government to follow the relaxed approach north of the border.

Scots-based humanist celebrant Mary Wallace said: “Absolutely loads of people come up here to get married in humanist ceremonies. I’ve married lots of people from down south who specifically want a legal humanist ceremony and they come specifically to Scotland to get married.”

There were about 5,500 marriages in Scotland last year where neither partner was resident in Scotland. Gretna still accounts for almost half of these but its popularity is diminishing, with a fall of more than 200 ceremonies in the border town last year to 3,232. Humanists ceremonies won legal recognition in Scotland in 2005, when just 100 ceremonies were held.

This jumped to 1,000 within three years and last year hit a record 6,400 marriages.

This compares with just 1,000 “non-legal” humanist ceremonies south of the border, where couples must also go to a civil registrar for the marriage to gain civic recognition. The situation has come under fire from Humanists UK who are demanding change.

Chief executive Andrew Copson said: “It is ridiculous that English couples have to cross the border to Scotland to have a humanist marriage that has legal recognition.

“We conduct more than 1,000 humanist weddings in England and Wales every year and we know that all these couples would want to have these weddings legally recognised.”

Humanist marriages look poised to overtake religious weddings in Scotland for the first time next year.

There were 7600 faith marriages last year, a fall of 800. At the same time, the 500-strong increase in humanist weddings saw 6,400 such ceremonies. A similar shift in numbers next year would mean the current gap of 1,200 is wiped out and humanist ceremonies overtake religious weddings for the first time.

Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of Humanist Society Scotland said policy-makers must pay heed to the changing demographics in relation to religion.

He said: “Scotland was once a nation where the national church was intertwined with the state at every level. Today, however, more people than ever before are living their lives without a religious outlook and the connection between church and state is loosening.

“However, in some areas of law, certain faith bodies still have significant specific privilege. Government both nationally and locally have a legal duty to ensure all its citizens are treated equally, no matter what their faith and belief.”