A new poll has revealed public support for legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales by four to one (with 52% in support and only 13% against). The results have been released on the day that a proposal to give this legal recognition is to be discussed in the House of Lords.
An amendment has been tabled by Labour peers Lord Harrison and Baroness Massey and the Conservative Lord Garel-Jones to the Marriage Bill currently before Parliament. Legal recognition is also the party policy of the Liberal Democrats. An amendment was debated in the Commons Report stage last month with clear signals of a majority vote but was halted through the last minute intervention of the Attorney General raising concerns about legal implications of the amendment as drafted. A revised amendment addressing all of the concerns will be debated tonight.
Public support for legal humanist marriage ceremonies comes more or less evenly from all subsections of the population. Younger people are stronger in support (by 60% to 9% among 25-34-year-olds) but even among those aged 55 or over 44% are in favour and only 17% opposed. There is little or no regional variation except that Scotland supports the proposal by 65% to 9% - but even with Scotland omitted England and Wales support humanist marriage by 51% to 13%. Those never married (60%) or living as married (57%) are more in favour - but all other categories (married, civilly partnered, separated, divorced, widowed) are still in favour by 48% to 15%.
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the BHA commented ‘In the context of current marriage law, giving legal recognition to humanist marriages is not controversial, would meet a genuine public desire, and would have a negative effect on absolutely no one in society. It would only go on to improve the married lives and happiness of thousands of couples who wish to have a humanist marriage. The results of the YouGov poll today are no surprise considering the increasing popularity and demand of humanist ceremonies.
‘During the process of the Marriage Bill it has been completely baffling to us that the Government have wanted to avoid an increase in the number of couples getting married in England and Wales and that it has been willing to continue to stand in the way of non-religious couples who only want the same choice that non-religious couples already have in Scotland and which religious couples have – a civil ceremony or a ceremony that reflects their deepest beliefs, conducted by a person who shares those beliefs. The Church of England representative also opposed the amendment at the Commons – we have since met with them and I am confident that we have addressed all of their concerns and therefore they will have no reason to not support this measure.’
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The YouGov poll shows that only 6% of those polled are strongly opposed to the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, in addition to Scotland, with another 6% tending to opposition, but 25% strongly support it and 28% tend to support it. (Those neither supporting nor opposing make up 25% and the remaining 10% are ‘don’t knows’.)
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2385 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 31st May - 3rd June 2013. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
As well as hundreds of marriages, the BHA conducts many thousands of funerals every year. All the ceremonies are conducted by trained and accredited celebrants subject to strict quality assurance processes and 97% of clients give these ceremonies feedback of 5/5.
Many hundreds of couples have humanist weddings in England and Wales each year but unlike in Scotland – where almost 3000 a year are conducted – they are not recognised as legal marriages.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.