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Peers and MPs urge Government to press on with legislation of Humanist marriage

Hundreds of MPs and Peers have put pressure on the Government to press on with the legalisation of humanist marriage in recent days. Despite assurances from Ministers last year that a decision would be swiftly taken following a public consultation, the Government are now dragging their heels and halting the wedding plans of hundreds of couples.

A motion has been tabled in the House of Commons calling on the Government to proceed swiftly to giving legal recognition within this Parliament. It has already been signed by MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, Green, Conservative, and even the SNP, making a rare venture into English and Welsh matters. Following over 2000 letters being sent from constituents, many more MPs have been lobbying Government directly to urge them to act now.

It follows a debate in the House of Lords in which peers from the Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Labour benches, as well as crossbenchers, also called on Government to get regulations through before the election. Peers urging this included Baroness Butler-Sloss, former Lord Justice of Appeals, who lambasted the Government’s slow response to this issue in the House of Lords and said, “I cannot for one moment understand why we are not just getting on with it.”  Other Peers expressing their support included Lord Harrison and Baroness Meacher, who highlighted how humanist marriage would merely extend the existing legal provisions awarded to Jewish and Quaker weddings to non-religious groups like the British Humanist Association, and Lord Garel-Jones who reiterated “that there is now overwhelming evidence that humanist marriages fulfil the Government’s new families test and that they support strong and stable marriages.” From the Opposition front bench Baroness Thornton noted the “overwhelming support” humanist marriage had in both Houses of Parliament when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 passed, and that Ministers assured us humanist marriage could be introduced well before the next election.

The delays and uncertainties are now seriously disrupting the plans of many couples. Robin Crosse, a Flight Lieutenant in the Royal Air Force planning on getting married next year, commented ‘We're hoping to have a humanist marriage in August next year, but as it stands we may have to go to a registry office in jeans and a t-shirt the day before it for it to actually count.’

The British Humanist Association has long campaigned for legal humanist marriages, and a hard-won amendment during the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 compelled the Government to hold a consultation on the issue and awarded them Order-making powers to introduce it. However since the consultation closed earlier this year, Government has been dragging their heels and avoiding the issue.

This is in spite of the Government having introduced what is known as the ‘Families Test’ earlier this year, a pledge to ensure all new policies support strong and stable families.  Few policies meet this requirement as well as humanist marriage.  In Scotland, the net number of marriages increased following the introduction of humanist marriage in 2005, where it is now the third most popular form of marriage.  They account for 10% of all Scottish marriages – all in the context of a general decline in the popularity of marriage.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The legalisation of humanist marriage fulfils the criteria of the governments own Family Test criteria, is Liberal Democrat party policy, and has wide popular support. In England and Wales, members of literally dozens of religions from Scientology to Methodism and from all the denominations of Judaism to the Spiritualists and the Aetherius Society can all have a legal marriage in the place most special to them, conducted by one who shares their beliefs, and in the form that embodies their most deeply held beliefs and values. Those with humanist, non-religious beliefs and values don’t have the same choice.
‘In Scotland, where humanist marriages are legal, they have proved hugely popular – so popular that they have contributed to a growth in marriages overall. Giving legal recognition to them in the whole of Britain would be fair, inexpensive, easy, uncontroversial, and beneficial for individuals, wider society, and the economy. We cannot fathom what is behind the delay from government’.


Notes

For further comment or information, please contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 0773 843 5059.

For a more comprehensive analysis relating to the humanist marriage consultation and related events see http://humanistlife.org.uk/2014/12/10/support-for-humanist-marriage-is-broad-and-overwhelming-so-why-is-the-government-delaying/

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.

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