N Ireland couple challenge law over humanist weddings

N Ireland couple challenge law over humanist weddings May 27, 2017

Model Laura Lacole, 27,  and footballer Eunan O’Kane, 26, above – both humanists – have mounted  a court challenge to have their upcoming wedding recognised as legal without having a separate religious or civil ceremony.
According to the Guardian, Lacole is marrying the Leeds United and Republic of Ireland midfielder O’Kane in Northern Ireland next month.
Under the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, non-religious weddings must be conducted at a local authority register office or an approved and licensed wedding venue. Any other non-religious ceremony is not legally recognised without an additional civil registration service.
The couple took their case to the Belfast High Court on Friday, arguing that they faced discrimination under European laws protecting freedom of belief. If they lose their case, the wedding will go ahead, but they will be obliged to have a separate civil registration in order to make their marriage legal.
According to the charity Humanists UK:

Many of us who aren’t religious are looking for a wedding that is more flexible and personal than a civil or register office ceremony.

In Scotland, humanist weddings have been legal since 2005. Eighty such weddings were conducted that year, but the number rose to almost 4,300 in a decade, exceeding those conducted by the Church of Scotland.
Humanist weddings are also legally recognised in the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, Australia and some US states.
Before the hearing, Lacole said she and O’Kane:

Want to have an intimate marriage ceremony which is encompassing of who we are as individuals, the values we hold, how we go about life and our viewpoint on life.
We want it to be personal to us and the love we have for each other. So of course, not being able to have legal recognition for that ceremony is an issue for us, and we want to do something about that for ourselves and other people in our position.

In court, the couple’s lawyer, Steven McQuitty, said the case was of “huge public interest” as they wanted the same protection given to those of different belief systems.

Religious people from pagans to Free Presbyterians and everything in between enjoy a substantial legal privilege under law. In a sense, the state gives its legal blessing to such marriages, [but] denies the same privilege to equally valid groups.

As the law stood in Northern Ireland, the couple’s wedding on June 22 would be “legally meaningless”, McQuitty said.
Northern Ireland’s Attorney General, John Larkin, argued that humanist elements could be incorporated into a civil ceremony. He told the judge:

That blunts and weakens the case for a separate ceremony.

The case is backed by Humanists UK, whose chief executive, Andrew Copson, said:

Religious people currently have the legal right to marry in a ceremony that reflects their most fundamental views of the world, but humanists cannot do likewise.
They are denied legal recognition for a bespoke personalised ceremony that reflects the values of the couple involved, that they share with the celebrant and that is built around them.
That is why there is a need for legal recognition to be extended to humanist marriages, so that couples can enjoy such a wonderful start to married life, free from discrimination while doing so.

Outside court, Lacole said:

We hope that we get a good verdict which means that we can have the wedding ceremony that we want to have. If we don’t get it, we want to appeal so we can give other people the opportunity to have the wedding ceremony that they want.

O’Kane and Lacole, a vice-chair of Atheists NI, have invited 250 guests to their wedding.
Lacole said:

It’s been a lot of stress to organise the wedding and take on a legal case at the same time. I’m optimistic, our case is solid, and I can’t see any just reason not to be given legal recognition. We don’t want to take rights away from anyone else, we just want our beliefs recognised. You hold your beliefs dear, it’s how you define and interpret your life. We just want a wedding that embodies our beliefs.

Judgment was reserved.

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  • Does N. Ireland recognize secular marriages conducted in other countries?

  • Brian Jordan

    Render unto the Registrar that which is a civil matter: like taxes and benefits.
    ISTR that at one time (maybe still the case?) RC weddings had to be followed by a separate civil registration, since the couple wouldn’t bend the knee to Henry VIII’s legacy, only to “St” Peter’s. All partnerships resulting in civil rights or benefits should be established by civil registration. Any desired trimmings could be added separately.

  • Vanity Unfair

    Brian Jordan:
    I can’t see a problem either.
    A civil wedding ceremony is a secular affair. The regulations (with few exceptions) forbid religious paraphernalia or a religious building to be used. The ceremony has no religious content. The words used during the ceremony are legally stipulated for conformity and clarity and the Registrar is a civil servant with legal authority.
    As far as I can ascertain there is no bar to the happy couple, after having fulfilled the legal requirements, having a friend pop up and add a few words. Like Sharia “marriages” these will have no legal effect.
    All that has to be done is to pay the fees and arrange the ceremony at your local sports club, hotel, aquarium or public library. http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/agencies-public-bodies/ips/general-ips-publications/civil-reg/approved-premises.csv?view=Standard&pubID=1080230

  • 1859

    Come to New Zealand! You can be legally married in a Flying Spaghetti Monster wedding ceremony! With the full trappings of pasta and kisses! It’s for real – see back issues of the Freethinker.

  • Michael Glass

    In Australia, 74.9% of the marriages were civil ceremonies in 2015. See http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/3310.0