Gay Weddings First? What Next? Humanist Ones?

In the UK you can choose to have a Humanist ceremony, but outside of Scotland? All marriage must involve a legally recognised service.

These are religious in nature. Scotland however voted in 2005 to allow “humanist” weddings. It is one of the six nations in the world where this is allowed. It lets a couple express their love and commitment through the story of life and the affirmation of those they love and cherish rather than the words of a state. 

Couples organising Humanist wedding ceremonies can choose to part with tradition or fully embrace it. Some brides choose to be walked down the aisle by their fathers, or both parents, or make that walk on their own. And there is a greater choice in terms of location than there is for civil ceremonies which have to be conducted at premises with licences.

And in a nod to the pagan traditions of Scotland? Humanist Society Scotland celebrants encourage couples to write their own personal wedding service rather than utilise the vows associated with other civil services. And unlike the rigid civil ceremonies of religion, many Scots choose pagan practices such as hand binding or choose to have their services in the open in places such as on top of Scotland’s hills and around it’s lochs.

Couples all over the UK should be able to have a humanist ceremony as a legally recognised service as there is an obvious unfairness in a law that only recognises religious ceremonies of marriage and eschews the value of the civil marriage. A recent attempt to have an amendment (to recognise humanist marriages) to the Marriage Bill, before the UK parliament, was rejected.

The amendment will be brought back. And I hope it wins.


  1. CaitieCat says

    I’m proud that Canada’s one of the places this can be done. We never finished with it, but when I was arranging my own marriage to my partner, we had contracted with our local humanist registered wedding officiant. :)

  2. says

    The US is one of those countries, too: because of the First Amendment, no state can require a religious service. In Maine, North Carolina and Florida, weddings are simply a jurat that any notary public can take. In Washington (as in most states), the legal minimum for a wedding ceremony is for the couple to say, before an officiant and two witnesses, that they wish to be married to one another, followed by the five people signing a valid marriage certificate.

    So Scotland, Canada, the US… what are the other three?

  3. blondeintokyo says

    In Japan all you need to do is fill out some paperwork. You don’t need to have any kind of ceremony at all.

    Divorce is the same. As long as there’s no conflict, no custody issues, all you have to do is fill out a paper and sign it.

    Most people chose to have a ceremony, though, and Japanese people love the romanticism of western style white weddings, with the white dress, flowers, and tuxedo. There’s a wedding industry that will make your wedding just like the ones you see on American TV dramas! The best part is, they even have a minister. But since most people here are atheist, they don’t care if the minister is even an actual minister. As long as he’s white, male, and wears a black robe, they’re happy. They just that he looks the part. Image is everything!

    This opens up job opportunities for western guys- I know several English teachers who moonlight on weekends playing minister at weddings. They simply say a short speech in Japanese, stand there looking “cool” and get paid a hundred bucks a pop. :)

  4. angharad says

    Another might be Australia. Here the only requirement is that the celebrant have a licence to officiate at weddings, and there are many civil celebrants who will marry you in your backyard, in a park, on the beach etc. You can make up your own vows and basically do whatever you like so long as some pieces of paper get signed and there are witnesses. So I suppose there’s space for a humanist wedding in that. Something like 60% of our weddings now have nothing to do with churches.

  5. lurker says

    The Netherlands is another one. Here you are wedded legally and after that you can choose to have a religious ceremony, or no ceremony or a humanist one. The paperwork is the thing that matters. For a long time, I believed that it was the same everywhere.

  6. michaelnicholson says

    I had a humanist wedding in the UK. It was a civil ceremony at a hotel. As a previous commenter mentioned, we were expressly forbidden to have any religious aspect to the ceremony – not a problem for me :)

    So I’m not really sure what it is that we’re not allowed to do here?? My marriage has exactly the same standing as one conducted in a church with all the frills.

  7. Robert B. says

    O.o It didn’t occur to me that this might be rare… Sometimes I remember that living in the US is not all bad. I think I’ve only ever been to one wedding with a religious ceremony:

    1. A wedding between two Objectivists (as in Ayn Rand). They hired a soft-spoken justice of the peace and parked her on the shore of a babbling brook in an outdoor ceremony. No one but the bride and groom could hear a word. At age fifteen, I thought this was funny as hell, but no one would believe me that they must have done it on purpose – hadn’t read as much Rand as I had. The service was written on the back of the program, though, so I know it was completely secular.

    2. My cousin. May have made some vague nods to religion, but not held in a church or anything. A deist wedding, I guess. Most memorable part was the way the bride had chosen her dress to show off (some of?) her tattoos.

    3. The one religious one. Episcopalian in a fancy old church. I was best man – my friend was fine with an atheist in his religious ceremony as long as I was fine with being in it. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, though I did not try the crackers.

    4. A very nontraditional wedding between two friends of mine. Did not formally include any kind of ritual, religious or otherwise. Not even any officiant present – I think the legal wedding had been performed previously at city hall. The fathers of the bride and groom made speeches as part of the ceremony, though, which coincidentally happened to quote key parts of the Jewish and Episcopal wedding ceremonies respectively. :-)

    5. My sister’s wedding. Not even slightly religious, at my new brother’s insistence. Justice of the peace, self-written vows, the groom’s brothers made a speech and recited a poem. No speech for me, though I did get to stand up front so everyone could see me cry. :,-D

  8. Ysanne says

    Germany and Hungary: You go to the civil registry office, fill out some paperwork to get an appointment for a wedding and hand in some documents to prove identity, current marital status etc. Then you have a ceremony which can be the couple signing some papers in front of a civil servant, having a full-blown secular marriage ceremony with guests and music and big fluffy white dress, or something in between.
    And that’s it.
    Afterwards, if you feel the need, you can go to church and get religiously married too, but legally that counts for exactly nothing.

  9. says

    So, we had this civil wedding thingy in Germany.
    It was funny as hell because instead of playing track 4 on the CD (Fields of Gold) the lady played #1. Yes, I almost fell under the table as I got married to “Message in a Bottle”.
    The next day we celebrated with friends and family. If I had wanted somebody to say something I could surely have found somebody.

  10. Wrath Panda says

    Last wedding I went to in the UK involved the priestess sitting naked on the altar for the entire ceremony. There was a lot of symbolism involving rubbing spears and some walking about. Then we had beer and they sang songs about the evils of ducks (something about sleeping with your wife and smoking your cigars o_O). There was even potato salad! Neo-pagan fertility churches throw the best weddings.

    Oh, there was a civil ceremony at a registry beforehand too. Nobody remembers that for some reason.

  11. latsot says

    Like michaelnicholson, I was married in a hotel in England and there was no religious component at all. We had the opportunity to write our own vows and quite a lot of control over the form of the service. So I too am confused by this article.

  12. thumper1990 says

    The amendment will be brought back. And I hope it wins.

    I fucking hope so; I was unaware Humanist ceremonies weren’t allowed here. I don’t plan on getting married any time soon, but when I do I was hoping for a Humanist one.

  13. SoRefined says

    Here in Colorado, USA, you are allowed to officiate your own wedding. My husband and I married with no one present but the two of us. No representatives of the state, no family, no friends, no imaginary sky friends. Just him and me.

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