New Blog Post: Humanist marriages go to court – and Some Further Thoughts on Independent Celebrants

I’ve published a revised version of my most recent blog post on humanist weddings on Law and Religion UK

The revisions took into account some subsequent conversations on Twitter and some further thinking about why a declaration of incompatibility could be useful.

I’ve also been alerted to another point. The Law Commission’s Terms of Reference states that their focus will include looking at:

How the law should be reformed in relation to who can solemnize a marriage and how it could be reformed to enable a wider range of persons to solemnize a marriage. This will include how marriage by humanist and other non-religious belief organisations could be incorporated into a revised or new scheme, and how provision could be made for the use of independent celebrants, but the Law Commission will not make recommendations as to whether the groups who can solemnize marriages should be expanded

It’s been pointed out to me on Twitter that if specific amendments are made for humanists then these would not cover independent celebrants.

Both the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and the Private Members Bill would make provision for belief organisations of which Humanists UK would be one.

But independent celebrants would probably not fall under this category.

There’s three options here:

1. The belief organisation amendment could be widened to cover independent celebrants.

2. A further specific amendment could cover independent celebrants.

3. A revised or new scheme could be proposed – possibly moving to or towards the model of registering people not buildings.

This could go further than the Scottish model. The Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 (as amended) provides a system that registers celebrants not buildings. But such registrars must either be district or assistant registrars appointed by the Registrar General (section 17) or celebrants for religious or belief marriages.

Under section 8, these include ministers of the Church of Scotland, ministers recognised by a religion or belief that has been prescribed by regulation and members of a religion or belief body who have been nominated under section 12 or section 9 of the Act.

Independent celebrants are therefore still excluded in Scotland since they are not attached to a religion or belief organisation.

Both the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 and the Private Members Bill copy this in relation to allowing weddings by authorised belief organisations

This would continue to exclude independent celebrants and would also pose the question as to the definition of belief – a question that has already posed problematic in English employment law.

A preferable approach would therefore be to extend provision for ‘authorised organisations’. This would include independent celebrants where they are part of a wider organisation.

The upcoming humanist litigation will no doubt serve as an impetus for reform – indeed, it may mandate such reform if a Declaration of Incompatibility is issued.

Given that the Law Commission has been asked to look at independent celebrants as well as belief organisations, it will be important that these are not overlooked as a result of the forthcoming litigation.


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