A legal challenge in the High Court on 6th and 7th July 2020 might give some welcome relief to couples who feel the current system is discriminatory. The landmark case is being supported by the charity, Humanist UK, who have campaigned on the issue for decades and would welcome some recognition in law which is currently not the case in England and Wales. Under the terms of the 1995 Marriage Act, thousands of approved premises were allowed to hold a 'civil ceremony' providing a second option for couples to wed as well as a visit to the register office or in a religious setting. Now with just one in four marriages taking place in a church, civil ceremonies have become the most popular choice and which are legally recognised.
The Decision: Following the case, the High Court judge, Mrs Justice Eady DBE said that "the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages gives rise to discrimination and that the Secretary of State for Justice, cannot simply sit on his hands and do nothing." However, she acknowledged that as the Government are currently giving the matter consideration in the form of a review into marriage by the Law Commission, the Government's refusal to act immediately can be justified. Read the full text here
So, there could be hope. The Minstry of Justice said, "it has asked the Law Commission to make recommendations for a simple, fair and consistent system for all, and to give more couples a choice in how they make their commitment to each other." The current laws date from 1836 so do not meet the needs of many modern couples. This review, which began in 2019, is expected to take 2 years. Find out more about their work here.
Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley are amongst the six claimaints at the High Court. Lucy and Dan have had both a civil ceremony and a humanist one since the start of legal proceedings. They didn't want to have a civil ceremony but felt they had no choice to gain legal recognition. The couple said, "since the start of proceedings in this case we've already had a humanist ceremony as well as a civil marriage because we were unable to secure legal recognition for humanist marriages before our wedding date. However we are now taking part in the case in the hope that we can change the law for couples in the future."
Lucy Penny and Dan Bradley.
Confusingly, Humanist ceremonies have been recognised in Scotland since 2005 and Northern Ireland since 2018 and it is hoped that the upcoming case will provide a the green light for couples who want neither a civil nor a religious ceremony in England and Wales too. A poll by You Gov found that 69% of the public support legal recognition of humanist marriage in England and Wales, but the Government still has not given legal recognition despite Parilament voting to do so in 2013. It has been on the statute books since but the Government have not enacted that power. Little wonder then that more than 7 years on this matter is stretching the patience of many couples.
Currently, non religious weddings can only be conducted by a Registrar which under the terms of the Marriage Act 1995, must take place in a 'permanent structure'. Some couples want to get married on their favourite beach in a personal ceremony conducted by a Humanist, but this is not considered a legal setting in England and Wales. So, should a couple choose this type of ceremony, this would have to be made legal to comply with the present law, with a visit to their local registrar and which adds to the financial costs too.
9th July 2020: Update on the above case brought by six couples and supported by The Humanists UK, is that 'judgement has been reserved for a later date. Mrs Justice Eady said that, "she doesn't know when she will return a decision, but recognising the importance of the matter to the claimants, intended to give the matter her priority."