humanist weddings

Is a humanist wedding legal?

Are humanist weddings legal?
Yes! Of course, humanist weddings are legal. They’re not illegal. However, as the law in the UK currently stands, a humanist marriage is not legally recognised, so a couple has to visit a registry office or a registrar has to perform the ‘legal bit’, before or after the humanist wedding ceremony.
Will my humanist wedding feel real?
Most couples choose to visit a registry office before their wedding. Many people are concerned that this will affect the feeling of their humanist ceremony; but we’re told, time and again, that these fears are unfounded. As Humanists UK celebrants, we are trained carefully to write and conduct humanist ceremonies that personalised and reflect your personalities, and resonate with your family and friends.
So, the humanist ceremony creates the real memory.
Many couples choose to keep the ritual of the ring exchange for their humanist wedding ceremony. In the ‘legal bit’, there are specific words that must be exchanged, so there is nothing personal in those. Your names are just filling the gaps.
The current status of the campaign for legal recognition.
Humanists UK is campaigning hard for the equal rights of non-religious people in the UK, including the legal recognition of humanist marriage. Humanist weddings gained legal recognition in Scotland in 2005. As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of humanist wedding ceremonies, and Scottish celebrants; in fact, they’ve just celebrated their 50,000th ceremony! Humanists UK work closely with Humanist Society Scotland and, if you wish to have a wedding in Scotland with a Humanists UK celebrant, with legal recognition it is possible for us to apply for a special permit (ask me directly for more details!)
The Republic of Ireland gained legal recognition for humanist marriage in 2012. And Humanists UK has been supporting a case that has been won by Leeds United footballer, Eunan O’Kane, and Laura Lacole, to make their humanist wedding legal in Northern Ireland. Humanists UK’s Head of Ceremonies, Isabel Russo, happily conducted the first humanist wedding ceremony with legal recognition in the UK on the 22nd June 2017. As the original outcome of the court was appealed, we have to wait until September to know if we have won the rights for all humanists in Northern Ireland. But we’re so proud of this particular humanist couple for persevering to have their own humanist wedding with legal recognition.
Why hasn’t humanist marriage in the UK been given legal recognition yet?
This is a question that, as Humanist UK celebrants, we all ask ourselves, all the time. We’re lucky that we are part of Humanists UK, who are campaigning for the rights of all non-religious people. Many people wonder if it’s because of the need for registered venues, or churches, because, humanist weddings can be held anywhere. However, Jewish weddings can be held anywhere.
When/if we gain legal recognition, then Humanists UK celebrants will have to be trained, and then we hope that they will have the permission to conduct the ceremony in any place. If Scientologists and other organised religions can have legal recognition of their marriages, why not humanists? After all, non-religious people, who often identify as humanists, should have equal rights to people who identify with organised religions. (Here’s a link to a quick check how humanist you are: How humanist are you?)
Whilst we wait for the UK to catch up with Scotland and Ireland, and give equal rights to non-religious people in allowing the legal recognition to humanist marriage, Humanists UK will continue to select, train and accredit wedding celebrants, ensuring that this largest network of professional humanist celebrants adhere to a strict code of conduct and receive continual professional development.
I’m really proud to be part of a large network of great celebrants and, as a genuine humanist, represent Humanists UK (aka The British Humanist Association), a national charity that has been campaigning for equal rights for non-religious people (including women’s rights & LGBT rights), since 1896.
If you are thinking about having a humanist wedding at the end of 2017 or in 2018 or 2019, you may even be lucky enough that the campaign has achieved its goals; in which case I’ll be able to offer you a humanist wedding ceremony that includes the legal bit. (You may even be one of the first couples in the UK to experience a humanist wedding with legal recognition!)
And if you have a humanist wedding with me or one of our other celebrants, then you can apply for a year’s free membership for you both and enjoy free events, free-thinking discussion and interesting talks throughout the year, including updates on the campaign for the legal recognition of humanist marriage. What’s not to love about that?!

What is a humanist wedding ceremony?


Humanist weddings are an increasingly popular choice for people who want a personal, non-religious ceremony. It differs from a civil ceremony in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the personalities of the couple, as well as the shared beliefs and values. It is written and conducted by a humanist celebrant, who has been selected, trained and accredited by Humanists UK.

1) A humanist wedding ceremony is personalised. A Humanists UK celebrant will meet with the couple and listen to their wishes, and get to know their personalities, as well as their ideas and plans for their wedding. Each ceremony is bespoke and hand-crafted for the couple, so no two ceremonies are the same. There are almost no limitations to what a humanist ceremony can be; the couple can choose what to include, for example the style, the promises, the rituals, readings or poetry. Many couples choose to include traditional features, such as the ring exchange, the promises, the walk down the aisle. However, unlike traditional ceremonies, a humanist ceremony also gives the couple a chance to have their story told in their own way.

2) A humanist wedding ceremony is respectful. Humanists respect people of all faiths and religions; Humanists UK celebrants are all genuine humanists, many of whom also have an interest in learning about different cultures and religions. Humanists believe that we have only one life and therefore it is our responsibility to make it a good life and make ethical decisions based on empathy, reason and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals. Humanists believe in the absence of an afterlife, and any discernible purpose to the universe, humans can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same. A humanist wedding ceremony can contain a quiet time for personal prayer, or even a religious reading by someone other than the humanist celebrant; as long as the couple requests this.

3) A humanist wedding ceremony is creative. It can be traditional or contemporary, but it is always original. From remote locations to fancy dress, from the epitome of luxury to the wildly rustic style of weddings, from subtle differences to the traditional ceremony to the outright extraordinary, the ideas are endless. A celebrant will ask you about your dreams for your wedding day and give suggestions on how your ceremony could reflect it.

4) A humanist wedding ceremony is inclusive. Unlike other ceremonies, there is the opportunity to mention significant people (present or absent) at the beginning of the ceremony. This is often very much appreciated, especially when friends or family have travelled from afar, or there are people whom the couple wish to particularly thank. Furthermore, there is the chance to include significant people, either by asking them to read a poem or reading, or involving them in rituals.

5) A humanist wedding ceremony will be memorable. With traditional or civil ceremonies, it all sounds a bit the same. However, humanist ceremonies are artfully crafted to ensure that they will be remembered and there is always something new for someone in each one, whether that is a different ritual, the love story, or a piece of poetry.

6) A humanist wedding ceremony won’t be in a church, unless that church has been deconsecrated. A humanist wedding ceremony can be absolutely anywhere that you want it to be. From beaches, to restaurants, to castles, to people’s back gardens, there is almost no limit to where you can have your humanist wedding ceremony. A church can often feel like a cold, daunting place for many people, especially if they are not religious. In contrast, humanist wedding ceremonies are full of warmth, whatever the weather.

7) A humanist wedding ceremony will probably contain some traditional elements. Most brides choose to walk up the aisle to entrance music, and couples almost always choose to have the ring exchange, and make vows or promises together. However, with humanist wedding ceremonies, anything is possible. So, if you don’t want to walk up an aisle, or your both want to walk up aisles, you can choose to do it whichever way you want.

8) A humanist wedding ceremony by a Humanists UK celebrant is quality assured. All the Humanists UK celebrants have been selected and trained to the highest standards. To maintain their accreditation with the largest network of humanist celebrants in the UK, which is part of the Humanists UK charity, they have to adhere to a strict code of conduct. This is really reassuring for any couple. Humanists UK celebrants also have Public Liability and Professional Indemnity insurance. So, if a celebrant trips and knocks into the wedding cake, this can be claimed on their insurance. (nb we have never heard of this happening yet).

9) Humanist wedding ceremonies reflect shared humanist values and beliefs. There is always at least one person who is attending a humanist ceremony for the first time. Humanists believe that we have only one life and therefore it is our responsibility to make it a good life and make ethical decisions based on empathy, reason and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals. Humanists trust scientific methods when it comes to understanding the universe and reject the idea of the supernatural, in the same way as being atheist or agnostic. Humanists believe in the absence of an afterlife, and any discernible purpose to the universe, humans can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.

10) Humanist wedding ceremonies often evoke emotion; bringing tears (of joy) and smiles and laughter. Each ceremony is created to resonate with the couple and the couple’s friends and family. This creates an empathy, understanding and emotion for your wedding guests. Older relatives may be really impressed; I’ve had the father of the bride give me a bear hug of gratitude afterwards! You can expect your friends and family to be enthused after your ceremony, and some of them may choose to have their own humanist ceremony one day.

Written by Natasha Gray
Humanist/non-religious wedding celebrant, with Humanist Ceremonies

Creative, Unique, Personalised Humanist Wedding Ceremonies,
Partnerships, Namings and Civil Ceremonies