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Jul 23 2013

Solemnization is an expensive business

Ireland is changing.

Traditionally Catholic Ireland has allowed an atheist group to perform weddings this year for the first time, and the few people certified to celebrate them are overwhelmed by hundreds of couples seeking their services.

Demand for the Humanist Association of Ireland’s secular weddings has surged as the moral authority of the once almighty Catholic Church collapsed in recent decades amid sex abuse scandals and Irish society’s rapid secularization.

Ah not just the sex abuse scandals. Don’t forget the enslavement and brutality scandals; don’t forget the industrial “schools” and the Magdalene laundries.

Until now, those who did not want a religious wedding could have only civil ceremonies. Outside of the registrar’s office, only clergy were permitted to perform weddings.

But statistics show rising demand for non-Church weddings. In 1996, 90 percent of Irish weddings were performed by the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland. But by 2010 that percentage had fallen to 69 percent.

The pent-up demand from those who want more than a civil ceremony in a registry office but reject a religious wedding has created a major backlog for the humanist group’s ceremonies director.

And a seller’s market, apparently.

The law says solemnizers cannot work for profit. Whiteside said he usually asks 450 euros per wedding, although it might be more if long distance travel is involved.

“We don’t have salaries, so we have to have some kind of income,” he said, noting that priests had salaries and used their own churches for weddings.

Hmm. Sounds like profit to me.

13 comments

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  1. 1
    Eamon Knight

    I’m not sure what your point is: people deserve to be paid for what is probably several hours’ work, including prep.

    To my knowledge Humanist officiants in Canada typically charge about $300 to do a service, and so do get a little income from it. That’s what we paid the officiant who ran my mother’s memorial (though the officiant, having been a friend of my parents, donated her fee to their UU congregation where the service was held, in memoriam). It’s also what the UU chaplain who did my father’s memorial charged. 450 euro is significantly more, but it’s hard to compare between different countries.

    Bear in mind that churches may also charge for use of their space, staff time, etc, but I have no idea how much.

  2. 2
    Nathaniel Frein

    Yeah, I’m really not sure this is a problem. Without knowing what the expenses are or the time involved, I really can’t make a judgement.

    If he were to maintain a regular job to pay his bills, that would seriously impact his ability to officiate. For him to be able to meet as much demand as possible, he has to do this full time, which means he has to be able to survive off of the income.

  3. 3
    badgersdaughter

    I don’t know what the problem with a civil ceremony in a registry office is, either. My husband and I are both atheists, and the registrar in Aberdeen had no problem leaving out references to God and such. She was really very sweet, the setting was beautiful, there was no fuss, and we were perfectly happy.

    That said, we did look for humanist officiants in Ireland, since he’s from Northern Ireland, and would have been closer to family, but in the end decided against it.

  4. 4
    Matt Penfold

    I’m not sure what the rules are in Scotland, but in England and Wales if you have civil ceremony, either in a registry office or at an approved venue, not only do you not have to have any references to god or the like, but you are not actually allowed to have any explicit religious references.(*)

    *. Unless the venue is a listed building and the religious symbolism is part of the building.

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    I didn’t really have one (pressing, clear) point. More like some interest and some potential questions.

    About the civil ceremony – I’m guessing some people want something more ceremonial and/or festive? Although the civil ceremonies I’ve been to were pretty festive…

  6. 6
    iknklast

    badgersdaughter – for some of us, that was not what we wanted, and that should be our option. My husband and I wanted to get married by the side of Salt Creek, a beautiful site more in keeping with our way of being in the world than a civil service in a judge’s office. It’s a matter of personal choice, and while that worked nicely for you, some of us would like to have our wedding in our own way. No humanist officiants in Oklahoma, though. We had to get a minister, and we looked for one who would do it our way. Found a friend who had been ordained by a cult years before. That worked, and our ceremony went the way we wanted it.

    I attended my brother’s wedding in a civil ceremony at the county courthouse. It was a brief, chaotic affair, with lots of people waiting for us to be done so they could be next. That simply wasn’t what we wanted.

  7. 7
    SeanM

    We got married 4 years ago this week in a humanist wedding in Ireland. Registrars don’t work weekends so you’re out of luck (up to now) if you wanted a non-religious wedding on a Saturday. We’d to do the registry on the Friday for the legal bit (kept to the bare minimum) and the full-on wedding with a humanist celebrant on the Saturday (which went really well).
    I don’t remember off-hand what we were charged but it was around 300euros. For that we had an initial meeting with Brian Whyteside to find out more about humanism (as while we are both non-religious, we at the time didn’t really know much about it) followed by a meeting with the celebrant who talked us through the possibilities and gave us sample scripts. We then pretty much wrote our own ceremony, liaising with him on it. It was then a half day for him on the day itself including a round trip of about 150km. So in the scheme of things, not necessarilly bad value.
    Of interest with regard to humanists being now able to legally marry is that secular groups who want a licence to marry people have to indicate that they are apolitical entities. Quite apart from whether the humanist association is apolitical or not, this descriminates against secular groups as religious groups can both officiate at weddings and lobby politically.

  8. 8
    Ophelia Benson

    Yes that sounds reasonable. I think I’ve changed my mind about the fee mentioned in the article. It’s a service people want, and to do it the celebrants have to be available, so they have to make a living wage at it.

  9. 9
    Jane Donnelly

    The issue with making a profit is that in order to qualify under the legislation a secular, ethical, humanist body cannot be a body that makes a profit. The Humanist Association are claiming that the 450 Euro is for expenses, every last cent of it.

    “(h) it is a body that does not have the making of profit as one of its principal objects,”

    A secular atheist body would not be permitted to solemnise marriages in Ireland as the secular body must describe itself as a humanist body. The Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012 discriminates between secular bodies and between religious and secular bodies. In addition to this secular humanist bodies are not permitted to promote a political cause. This does not apply to religious bodies. The Humanist Assoc of Ireland has confirmed that it does not promote a political cause notwithstanding the fact that it promotes the separation of church and state. The following link might help you understand the issues http://www.michaelnugent.com/2012/12/31/psychic-mediums-people-who-lie-to-state-inquiries-and-debt-defaulters-can-solemnise-irish-marriages-but-not-atheists/

  10. 10
    Ophelia Benson

    Ohhhhhhh I see. Thanks Jane! I think you did explain it (when you picked Maryam and me up at the airport) but I forgot the crucial details. Blame jet lag.

    It’s the kind of thing that gets a lot of attention here too, because of the prohibition on a government establishment of religion. For instance…in that case, why do religious bodies get tax exemptions???

  11. 11
    John Phillips, FCD

    It costs £440 (approximately to have a CofE church wedding in England.

  12. 12
    John Phillips, FCD

    Approximately above should read ‘approximately 510 Euros’. Dodgy fingers: )

  13. 13
    Corvus illustris

    JD@9: The issue with making a profit is that in order to qualify under the legislation a secular, ethical, humanist body cannot be a body that makes a profit. The Humanist Association are claiming that the 450 Euro is for expenses, every last cent of it.

    “(h) it is a body that does not have the making of profit as one of its principal objects,”

    A secular atheist body would not be permitted to solemnise marriages in Ireland as the secular body must describe itself as a humanist body.

    Is such a body able to pay (note aseptic language, as used in academia when you don’t want to talk money) an honorarium to a celebrant, or a stipend if these solemnisations are his/her full-time occupation? That would seem only fair.

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