Although I am an atheist, I’ve never ticked the humanist box. I am an atheist because there is no god: humanists seem to want to reify that into a belief.
I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t understand people who do. What matters is not what you believe in, but how you behave towards yourself, other people, and the world in consequence of your beliefs.
Humanist weddings, on the other hand, I completely see the point of. Wanting ceremony and ritual to mark the important moments in your life is a natural human process. Civil registrars provide a ceremony if you want it, of course – within very specific bounds set by the fact that a civil registrar is a civil servant, paid to provide the legal process of marriage, and the small fee paid for a registry office marriage is not intended to allow for any very elaborate ceremony.
If you’re not religious, and many people aren’t (“no religion” was one of the largest categories in Scotland in the 2001 census, so large that the Churches lobbied to have that question removed from the 2011 census) then it’s useful to be able to have a ceremony to mark your marriage that isn’t restricted to a civil registrar’s obligations and that isn’t tied to a God of some description.
In Scotland, it has been lawful for humanist celebrants to wed couples since 2005. The first legal humanist wedding in Scotland took took place at Edinburgh Zoo on 18 June that year. Humanist weddings are steadily on the rise in Scotland.
I had never heard of the National Panel for Registration (NPR) before the same-sex marriage debate in the House of Commons in February, but apparently they represent civil registrars in England and Wales.
The right to celebrate humanist weddings in England and Wales – which would apply to both same-sex and mixed-sex couples – has been steadily proposed as an amendment to the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill at Westminster, currently passing through the House of Lords. It keeps being rejected because (justly enough) it’s not directly about same-sex couples, and the intention of the new legislation was only to lift the ban on same-sex couples in England and Wales (Northern Ireland rejected lifting the ban, Scotland already has its own legislation in process).
Unjustly, it keeps being rejected because it’s claimed that all sorts of bad consequences might arise if people in England and Wales had the option of humanist celebrants to legally wed them. This is rather similar to the Awful Consequences that are prophesied if same-sex couples can marry.
Jacquie Bugeja, chair of the NPR, wrote to Maria Miller:
“If the range of marriage providers were to be opened up to other organisations, this could severely compromise the commitment and close working relationships that currently exist and dilute this important work,” she wrote.
“It is our view that the criminal ‘wedding arrangers’ would use this as a way to get sham marriages solemnised.”
Pointing out that registrars have to go through strict training to ensure legal formalities are complied with, she added: “It is our view that the wider the range of people who are able to offer the service, the greater the likelihood of the law not being followed, thus demeaning the whole status of marriage.”
Oh really? Then could Jacquie Bugeja please cite her evidence from Scotland that this is happening here, where for eight years humanist celebrants have been arranging humanist weddings? What research is she claiming has been done into criminals using the legal status of humanist marriage in Scotland to set up sham marriages?
Or is she just making it up because she’s afraid if non-religious people can go to humanist celebrants to arrange their marriages, fewer and fewer people will use civil registrars for their ceremonies?