Category: Campaigns

Rehman Chishti MP to introduce Humanist Marriage Bill in Commons

Conservative MP Rehman Chishti, who was until last month the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, is introducing a Bill to the House of Commons today to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales, with cross-party backing.

The Marriage (Authorised Belief Organisations) Bill, if it becomes law, would extend legal recognition to humanist marriages conducted by Humanists UK celebrants within three months of its passage. The Bill is being sponsored by fellow Conservative MP, and Conservative Humanists patron, Crispin Blunt, as well as Labour MPs Angela Eagle, Steve McCabe, Jeff Smith, and Rachel Hopkins, and Lib Dem MPs Wera Hobhouse and Daisy Cooper.

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Ask your MP to support non-religious pastoral care in the armed forces

We are urging all members and supporters to write to your local MP, and ask them to make representations to the Secretary of State for Defence, calling for inclusive pastoral support for the armed forces. You can write to your MP directly here.


The availability of high-quality pastoral support, tailored to individual religions or beliefs, is an essential support for service people through the challenges of their careers, and to enhance the fighting effectiveness of the armed forces. However, currently, pastoral support is almost exclusively provided by Christian chaplaincy services.


There is no pastoral support for the non-religious. This is despite some 56,000 regular and reserve personnel identifying as non-religious, the second largest belief group after Christians. Furthermore, according to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 52 percent of the UK population identifies as non-religious, with this rising to more than 70 percent of young people (18–24) – the armed forces’ principal recruiting base.


Non-religious pastoral care is well-established in other areas of the public sector, including by the National Health Service and Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. And there is substantial precedent in other nations’ armed forces for humanist pastoral care provision. The Netherlands’ armed forces have had humanist pastoral care for 55 years; the Norwegians and Belgians make such provision, and the Australian Navy has recently reformed its chaplaincy to cater to the needs of non-religious personnel by employing non-religious pastoral carers.


Conservative Humanists Chairman, James Baird commented “This step should be a no-brainer, we have non-religious pastoral support in prisons, and hospitals, but our armed forces who can face some of the most challenging circumstances are largely still only able to access Christian chaplaincy services. Please do write to your MP, as I have done, and urge them to do all they can to support inclusive pastoral support for our armed forces.”

High Court rules non-recognition of Humanist marriage is “discriminatory” as judgement is returned in landmark Humanist marriage case

Judgement was given this morning at 10:30 at the Hight Court in the case brought by six couples seeking legal recognition for Humanist marriages in England and Wales. The couples were seeking a declaration that the UK Government’s refusal to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales was a breach of their human rights, which must be remedied.


High Court judge Mrs Justice Eady DBE ruled that the failure to provide legally recognised humanist marriages means that “the present law gives rise to… discrimination”. She also ruled that, in light of that, the Secretary of State for Justice “cannot… simply sit on his hands” and do nothing. However, she said, given that the Government is currently giving the matter consideration in the form of a review into marriage law by the Law Commission, the Government’s refusal to act immediately can be justified “at this time” and concluded, “Although I may deprecate the delay that has occurred since 2015, I cannot ignore the fact that there is currently an on-going review of the law of marriage in this country.” As a consequence, she declined to make a formal declaration that the Government is acting unlawfully at this time.


In the court hearing, the Government had argued that the couples had no right to humanist marriages, on the spurious basis that humanist marriages are not sufficiently connected to humanism to merit legal protection. At the same time, they also argued that English law already provides for humanist marriages by way of civil marriage. But in her decision the judge rejected these arguments, saying that there is an intimate link between couples’ beliefs and their choice of a humanist ceremony, reasoning, “in particular, in the way in which couples prepare for their wedding with their celebrant, in the statements made during the ceremony and in the emphasis on individual freedom of choice.”


The judge said that attention must now turn to the Government’s promised review of marriage law as the way that this discrimination must be addressed. The Government said in court that a consultation would be published in early September by the Law Commission.


Conservative Humanists Chairman James Baird commented: “While it is disappointing that the judgement raises questions about the best way of legally recognising Humanist marriages, and allows the Government more time to conclude the on-going legal review; the judgement does serve to make clare that it is now a matter of when, not if, Humanist marriages will be legally recognised in England and Wales. We hope the Government will take notice of the ‘discriminatory’ ruling, and act as quickly as is practical to restore equality for the thousands of couples each year who choose a Humanist wedding.”


Humanists UK has welcomed the court making clear that the failure to provide legal recognition of humanist marriages cannot be justified other than by saying that there is a review to redress the issue, but expressed disappointment at the Government being given more time to resolve the issue, particularly given how long humanist couples have already had to wait for legal recognition.


Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said: “We’ve waited nineteen years for this reform since it was first considered by the Government in an ultimately abandoned review of marriage law, and seven years since Parliament gave the Government the power to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages without requiring a new Act. Thanks to this judgment, it is at least now not a matter of if humanist marriages will be legally recognised but when, and we await the Government’s response to the judgment and their proposals to remedy the discrimination that has been identified by the court. We hope they will act quickly to give justice to the thousands of couples annually whose weddings are being denied legal recognition.”


Humanists UK had hoped that the judge would have made a declaration of incompatibility in respect of the current state of marriage law, to mark the breach and vindicate the rights of the claimants. Such an outcome would not have interfered with the current law reform process but would have sent a stronger message to the Government about the need for change.


Mr Copson continued: “For the particular couples who brought this case, although it is gratifying that the judge has recognised that failure to change the law is “discrimination”, it will of course be a great disappointment that she has not found a breach and has, instead, said they must wait for the current Law Commission review to conclude to find out how the Government will remedy this. We know that the claimants will now be considering whether to appeal. If they decide to do so, we will support them.”


The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar of Northern Ireland. Humanists UK has been supporting them in bringing the claim.


Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: “Notwithstanding our disappointment we are greatly encouraged by the contents of the Court ruling as the substantive argument has been won. Focus now shifts back to the Government to urgently provide assurances as to when legally recognised humanist marriage will come about. If these assurances are not forthcoming it is likely this legal journey will continue.”


You can see the full text of the judgement here.

Judgment reserved in Humanist marriage High Court case

One 8th July, the hearing concluded in the High Court legal challenge that six couples have taken over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. At the end of the hearing, the judge reserved her decision until a future date. Their case is being supported by Humanists UK.

Reserving her judgment, Mrs Justice Eady said that she doesn’t know when she will return a decision, but, recognising the importance of the matter to the claimants, intended to give the matter her priority. It is therefore hoped that the judgment will be returned soon.

At the end of the hearing, Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: “We are glad these couples have had their day in court, after two years of hard work getting to this point, and on a hugely important issue that has been at the top of our agenda with the Government for a decade now. We very much hope the judge rules in our favour and look forward to receiving her decision in due course.”

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: “The Court hearing is another significant milestone in what has been a protracted journey for legally recognised humanist ceremonies. We are confident that the legal principles and human rights arguments raised hold strong weight and we look forward to receiving a judgment in due course.”

Conservative Humanists Chairman James Baird added: “The six couple have had their day in court, we can only wait for the judge to return her verdict on this hugely important issue and hope that she rules in favour of the clear case for legalisation.”

Six couples to sue Government for legal recognition of Humanist Marriages

Six couples are going to the High Court on 7-8 July to take a landmark challenge over the legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. Their case is being supported by Humanists UK, which has campaigned for legal recognition of humanist marriage for many decades.

The humanist couples are taking the case to try to compel the UK Government to change the law to recognise humanist weddings as legally recognised marriages, as is the case for humanist weddings in Scotland and Northern Ireland and for religious weddings across the UK. Their lawyers will argue that the current law discriminates against them because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation, which precludes such discrimination.

Parliament gave the Government the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages in 2013 but no Government has used it. In the time since then, over 6,000 couples have been denied legal recognition for their humanist wedding, either having to go to a state registrar for an unwanted second ceremony in order to gain legal recognition, or not be legally married.

The six couples challenging this discrimination lodged their case at the High Court in November last year. Permission for the case to be heard was granted by the Court on 2 March, with the full hearing due to happen on 7-8 July. After permission was granted, the claimants offered to negotiate with the Government over possibly settling the case, particularly in light of the coronavirus pandemic, but this offer was refused. It is now hoped that the case will lead to a change in the law in time to help deal with the huge backlog of demand for marriage services that is now occurring due to the pandemic.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented: “Couples who have humanist weddings see that day as the epitome of their love and commitment to each other, and all they want is the same legal recognition for that as is given to every religious person in our country. We have tried for decades to address this glaring double standard. Government has dragged its heels and that’s why it’s been left to these couples to bring this case. As more and more non-religious couples choose to have humanist weddings, we need a law that works for all people who want to marry and we hope this case will lead to reform.”

The claimants are being represented by Ciaran Moynagh of Phoenix Law, Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC of Doughty Street Chambers, and Steve McQuitty BL of the Bar Library of Northern Ireland.

Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, said: “The time for asking to be accommodated is over. The Courts are now the only appropriate and realistic method of moving this issue on. Following a successful case in Northern Ireland momentum is on our side and I believe couples who look forward to a legally recognised humanist ceremony should take great heart and hope from that.”

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group, and Patron of Conservative Humanists commented: “The Government has been considering bringing about legal recognition of humanist marriages for some seven years now, over three different reviews. In this context it is understandable that these six couples have given up waiting and decided to resort to legal action. Further, it has never been more urgent than it is now to extend recognition, since the coronavirus pandemic means that there is a long backlog of demand for civil marriages. Stopping people from having to have both a humanist wedding and an unwanted civil marriage in order to gain legal recognition is a clear way to unclog that backlog.”

Conservative Humanists chairman James Baird commented: “While it is sad that it has taken a High Court case to bring this issue to the full attention of the Government, that the power to grant this recognition was given some seven years ago, but has not yet been enacted makes this a necessary step to seek positive action on this issue.”