Over 50 MPs and peers urge recognition of humanist marriages ahead of Parliamentary debate

53 MPs and peers have signed a joint letter calling on the UK Government to immediately legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales ahead of a parliamentary debate on the matter. The letter has been signed by parliamentarians from all major parties and across the religion or belief spectrum. The letter was organised by Humanists UK, who calls on the Government to listen and respond to the parliamentary calls for reform without delay.

The letter is being published ahead of Crispin Blunt MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG), leading a backbench debate on humanist marriages which will take place later today, 27 January, from 13:30–14:30 in Westminster Hall. The proposal for the debate was backed by 26 cross-party MPs and peers, of many religions and beliefs.

The joint letter calls on the Government to give humanists the same freedom of choice to marry in line with their beliefs as already enjoyed by their religious counterparts. It also highlights the Government’s contradictory position wholesale and piecemeal reform of marriage law. The Government has said it won’t consider granting legal recognition to humanist marriages prior to the outcome of the Law Commission’s review on marriage as it wishes to avoid undertaking piecemeal law reform. However, as the letter points out, the Government’s move on outdoor marriages is such piecemeal reform. The Government has, therefore ‘fundamentally undermined’ this argument.

Parliamentarians state ‘we see no reason for humanists to wait any longer’, and note that granting legal recognition would strengthen families and marriage as an institution, boost the marriage sector, and is well supported by public opinion. They note that legal recognition would bring England and Wales into line with Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Jersey, and Guernsey, which have all granted such recognition.

The letter was signed by 53 MPs and peers across the parliamentary spectrum including Co-Chairs of the APPHG Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative) and Baroness Bakewell (Labour); Former Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief Rehman Chishti MP (Conservative); Former Shadow Faith Minister Janet Daby MP; Liberal Democrat Party Leader Sir Ed Davey MP; APPHG Vice Chair Aaron Bell MP (Conservative); Dame Angela Eagle (Labour); Dame Margaret Hodge (Labour); Tommy Sheppard MP (SNP); and Caroline Lucas MP (Greens).

The proposal for the debate was supported before the Backbench Business Committee by 26 MPs, including 9 Conservatives, and 12 MPs who didn’t sign the letter. The 12 include Steve Baker MP (Conservative) and Nick Brown MP (Labour).

Speaking about the joint letter, Crispin Blunt MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, said:

‘I’m proud to stand with my parliamentary colleagues within and beyond the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group to call on the Government to legally recognise humanist marriages.

‘The Government has had the power to legally recognise humanist marriages for nine years and counting but has failed to do so. Doing so now would massively enhance freedom of choice for non-religious couples. And it would be an opportunity to level up England and Wales to match the freedoms already afforded to couples in Scotland and Northern Ireland.’

Humanists UK’s Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson said:

‘We’re delighted to see so many MPs and peers unite their voices and call for legal recognition of humanist marriages ahead of the upcoming debate on the matter. We know that affording choice to humanist couples is well-supported within and beyond Parliament, across the religion or belief spectrum, and across political lines.

‘We look forward to watching today’s debate and urge the Government to listen to the calls of their parliamentary colleagues and act to legally recognise humanist marriages without delay’.