In Scotland, Humanist Weddings Are Overtaking Religious Ones

The Registrar General for Scotland, George MacKenzie, just released a fascinating report on births, deaths, and marriages in 2011 (PDF).

It turns out civil ceremonies — conducted by local government officials — made up 52% of all ceremonies last year, up from 31% in 1971. Humanist celebrants conducted 2,486 marriages last year compared to 5,557 conducted by the Church of Scotland. (For the purposes of this report, Humanist ceremonies fall into the “Other” category, not the “Civil” category.)

Who needs a church wedding when you can have something like this?!

The overall trend, though, is away from religious ceremonies:

There are now more couples choosing humanist ceremonies than Catholic weddings in Scotland, according to official figures published yesterday. If the trend continues, there will be more humanist wedding celebrations than Church of Scotland marriages in three years’ time.

Humanism is a belief system grounded in the doctrine that humans can live ethical and fulfilling lives based on reason, without reliance on religion or superstition.

Mr MacKenzie said: “We would normally authorise clergy of churches but Humanists also come into that category because they have a belief system, albeit it’s not a religious belief system, and it seems to be very popular indeed.”

This is good news — atheists generally have a hard time replicating the ceremonies that churches hold on important occasions. It’s one of the big reasons there aren’t a ton of non-religious families — how do you throw a wedding, celebrate a birth, or die with dignity, without the help of religion? That’s a question we need to answer if we want people to stay firm in their non-theistic convictions and not go back into a church as they grow older.

In Scotland, it looks like the 110 religious celebrants there are doing their part to take religion out of these important moments in life and more people are taking advantage of that.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • BorborygmyDebacle9
  • Scantilycladoranges

    Sorry Hemant, but no one in Scotland has had a wedding like the one you pictured.

  • Rachel

    Are Humanist celebrants considered “clergy” in the US?  I’m getting married next year, and I’m trying to figure out how to have a legal ceremony that’s humanist, and Michigan law seems to stipulate judges, mayors, and “ministers of the gospel” as my only choices…

    • Stev84

      They can be. But apparently not in Michigan:
      http://www.meetup.com/Mid-Michigan-Atheists-and-Humanists/messages/boards/thread/10278726

      As noted on that page, there also kind of “joke” churches that ordain ministers just to perform weddings. That can be used to get a friend licensed to officiate.

      Try looking for an “interfaith celebrant/officiant”. They often do secular ceremonies even if they’re from a religious background. You can find tons of them just by entering those terms into Google.

      Or just have a short legal ceremony in front of a judge and then have the full ceremony later. That’s normal in Civil Law countries where you usually have to be married by a civil registrant before a church wedding is even possible

    • Glasofruix

      Well, you go to a judge or to a mayor and after you signed the papers you can make whatever ceremony you like.

    • http://twitter.com/enuma enuma

      Laws vary by state.  I know that Indiana law does not recognize secular celebrants, but CFI and the ACLU are suing to change that. 

      http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/indianas-marriage-statute-violates-constitution

  • http://twitter.com/the_ewan Ewan

    It’s worth bearing in mind that civil wedding ceremonies (already the majority) have absolutely no religious content at all, by law.

    • Sarah

      That’s the case in Australia too. We had 63% of marriages performed by a civil celebrant in 2008, and that includes a lot of atheists pleasing their parents or grandparents.

      I think that in several European countries (Germany, Italy, at least)only judges may perform weddings, if you want to do a church wedding it’s entirely separate and not legally binding. But I could be mistaken, I know you goto the courthouse during the week for the ceremony.

      • Stev84

        Germany – like the UK – has civil registrants at city hall. And like in many central European countries, you must have a civil wedding before you can have a church wedding. The difference between the UK and Germany is that in the UK, the civil registrants will also go to church and do the the civil part at the same time as the religious ceremony.

  • Mrs Schaarschmidt

    Here in Pennsylvania I had a secular wedding performed by an interfaith Rabbi. In Colorado, my niece had a secular wedding officiated by my father, who got an online ordainment so that he could perform the ceremony. So although both officiants were technically clergy, both ceremonies were absolutely secular.

  • OCRazor

    I just got married in MA last month in a humanist ceremony.  So count one more for the USA!

  • http://www.facebook.com/roccim Marlo Rocci

    You sort of missed the headline on that one.  The overall trend shows the death of marriage.  We are becoming a society of single people.  The US trend is an even sharper decline.

    • Stev84

      Just because people get married less, doesn’t mean they are single. Yes, there are more singles, but cohabitation has also gone up a lot. Before the late 60s, it was even illegal in many countries. Today, a significant amount of people live together for years without marrying. Especially in countries like Australia, which recognizes de facto (or common law) marriages that have largely the same rights as a formalized marriage (even for gay people).


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