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England: Gay Weddings, Yes; Humanist Weddings, Maybe.

The British parliament gave final approval to a bill legalizing same-sex marriage and it was signed into law by Queen Elizabeth II (it’s just a formality, but what is this, the 17th century?). The law still prohibits the Church of England from performing the ceremonies.

But more controversial, apparently, are humanist weddings. Howard Friedman reports that the law contains a provision to commission a study of whether they should allow humanist weddings and he quotes this from the debate on that provision:

Does [a fellow-MP] agree that there are important protections in the amendments made in the other place to prevent the possibility of crazy things such as Jedi weddings? This is about humanist weddings, which are very specific. It is not about commercial weddings, Jedi weddings or any of the other scaremongering that we have heard.

But why care if it does? What difference could it possibly make to anyone not participating in the wedding? The legal marriage should be nothing more than a matter of signing a piece of paper. However the couple wants to celebrate that event at that point should be totally irrelevant.

Comments

  1. says

    And in fact in England you CAN just go to a registry office and sign paperwork (that’s what my mom and step-dad did.) There is no need for any ‘wedding’ at all beyond that. So, I guess you could just go do the paperwork and then have your Jedi wedding, if that’s what you wanted.

  2. garnetstar says

    Is the study about the government possibly designating some humanist officials with the power to legally marry people? That’s what they do with religions: each religion has a functionary whose ritual is a legal marriage.

    I once attended a Buddhist “wedding”–scare quotes because in Tibetan Buddhism there is no such thing as marriage or weddings, they just have a good-luck ceremony. Led by a monk, the couple spoke their vows (or whatever) in Tibetan, accompanied by live music from a Tibetan gong choir. Then, since the groom’s father insisted that there be some Jewish component to the ceremony, a cantor led them in some of the Jewish wedding rites: this part was spoken in Hebrew. (The couple did do English translations for the benefit of the doltish wedding guests who did not understand ancient languages).

    But, neither a Buddhist monk nor a cantor (you need rabbi) is legally designated by the state as a religious official who has the power to marry. So, the couple had a judge hidden in their back bedroom, who married them secretly while the guests were at the reception.

    So yes, couples can have any weird ceremonies they like (gong choirs), but some designated official of the “religion” who has the state’s approval must marry them. I think it’d be downright silly to designate humanist functionaries (like who? Humanism has no clergy) to have that power, get a judge, for goodness sake.

  3. Moggie says

    Humanist weddings were legalised in Scotland a few years ago, and have proven very popular: there are already more people getting married this way than are having Catholic weddings, for example. The Church of England is scared that the same will happen in England, both for revenue reasons (the church makes a few million per year from weddings) and because it would be yet another blow to their dwindling relevance.

  4. Pen says

    I wish you’d try and get your head round this one, Ed, because we’ve explained it repeatedly. Gay marriages can now be performed by any institution or person in Britain authorised to perform marriages. The humanist question relates to which those are. Should they include the landlord at the local gay pub or the head of the theatre group? Perhaps not. Should they include the Humanist society? Probably yes, given that most religious organisations are included and they promote themselves as an equivalent. But as garnetstar says, who will do it and who will do the record keeping and admin. Anyhow it’s completely unrelated to who can marry who.

    You’d better believe that things are far more restrictive in France where only the state can perform weddings and foreign weddings performed by religious bodies are frequently considered invalid by the administration. Anything that happens in France in a church/gay bar/humanist society/coven is just for show. I am fine with the French method except for the difficulty with foreign weddings which has caused my family members plenty of hassle.

    How does it work in the US anyway? I don’t suppose any random American can declare me married?

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    garnetstar @ # 2: … the couple had a judge hidden in their back bedroom…

    This sets a troubling precedent.

  6. John Phillips, FCD says

    In the UK, even if you get married in church, you are not legally married in the state’s eyes until you have signed the register after the ceremony. The church is simply acting as an arm of the state. Humanist weddings, when finally allowed, would likewise allow designated humanist officials to carry out the ceremony and stand in for the state to officiate at the signing of the register. The British Humanist Association had to fight to get the consultation added at later readings of the bill as initially it was rejected.

  7. John Phillips, FCD says

    Correction, the BHA wanted the right to officiate at humanist weddings added to the bill, but the amendment allowing for the consultation was all they could get for now.

  8. garnetstar says

    Pierce Butler @5 You mean, should they want to perform Crimes Against Nature, as defined by Ken Cuccinelli?

  9. thebookofdave says

    What is so frightening about Jedi weddings, anyway? Are they afraid of Sith infiltrators solemnizing the events and upsetting the finely tuned midiclorian balance of marriage?

  10. matty1 says

    To expand a bit on why this is an issue. While you are not legally married until you sign the register just signing is not enough to make you legally married it has to be preceded by reciting vows in front of an authorised person. The Registrar’s (they are not Judge’s who as a far as I know have no such power in England) who conduct civil weddings follow a narrowly defined format that many find uninspiring and tend to marry several couples a day conveyor belt style.

    Many people want the legally binding wedding ceremony to have some emotional resonance for them and feel that neither this civil format or a religious wedding does that hence the demand for humanist weddings where the officiants would be more free to adapt to the couples wishes without inserting an unwanted deity.

    I don’t personally understand why the emotionally important bit and the legal bit have to be at the same time but this is my understanding of the background behind these demands.

    For an analogy suppose you were picking a reading for the wedding and were told “You can have any holy book or you can read an extract from the tax code”. Now a commission is looking into adding books of poetry to the allowable readings list and people are panicking that it will end up with someone reading dirty jokes.

  11. laurentweppe says

    But more controversial, apparently, are humanist weddings

    Us French have had humanist weddings and humanist baptisms since we burned down the Bastille and cut the King’s head. Of course Albion is going to drag its feet to adopt a french, revolutionnary custom: after all, they have yet to adopt the metric system after two centuries.

  12. matty1 says

    Um, the metric system is taught in British schools, food in the shops is labelled with weight in kilograms. True we hold out on using miles on the road signs and no one is about to start ordering beer by the litre but we’re getting there.

  13. iknklast says

    garnetstar said:

    get a judge, for goodness sake

    Problem with judges doing weddings is you usually have to go where they are. A rather sterile service in a county building. If you want anything different, no way. My husband and I wanted to get married by the side of salt Creek. No judge would travel all the way to marry us there. We found a friend who had been ordained Methodist when he was a preacher in a cult (how weird is that?) and would marry us any way we wanted.

    I am all in favor of humanist officiants, because it allows you to customize your ceremony the way you want. I don’t see why we should tell those who don’t want to go to church to get married that they need to go to City Hall, where an overworked, disinterested judge will marry you while the next couple waits in the wings. If we want to stand by the side of a creek, we should be able to call someone who will perform the service. And we shouldn’t have to restrict ourselves to looking for ministers.

  14. kevin norman says

    The Royal Assent bit is purely a hang-over from the constitutional past.

    No Monarch has vetoed a bill since Queen Anne – and it is pure form. Unlike the American Presidency where Royal Vetoes are regularly exercised I gather !!

    No different from the Clerk of the Office counter-signing a piece of paper before it is issued.

    She has not “consented! to anything, just signed it off.

  15. matty1 says

    I can’t be arsed to check this but I have heard that the Royal Assent doesn’t actually involve the Queen signing the bill and hasn’t since Victoria. The story goes that when she was in mourning for Prince Albert she gave orders that she wasn’t to be disturbed by politicians so they made up a rule that if the text of a bill is delivered to the palace and no objection is made in a certain time that should be considered the same as a signature.

  16. Ysidro says

    iknklast, I don’t think that’s so much a problem with judges as not having a relationship with your officiant. Most folks having religious ceremonies are going to know their officiant and thereby are able to get them to do more for them. I was fortunate my wife’s family knew a judge that was willing to perform the ceremony for us at a medium-small venue out of his office.

    That said, I think this example still speaks to the need to have legel and legitimate secular officiants outside of judges.

  17. jamessweet says

    What a strange world we live in, where Jedi weddings are “crazy” but Catholic weddings are not!

  18. iknklast says

    Ysidro –

    I don’t think that’s so much a problem with judges as not having a relationship with your officiant

    Of course, very few people actually know their judges, especially in a big place like Oklahoma City (where I was living). The judges are very busy people, and you shouldn’t limit the ability to get married where you want only to those people who know judges. The judges will travel only for those rare few who happen to be friends. That is why we need to expand the pool of officiants. It should be possible for anyone to get the officiant of their choice in the venue of their choice. Having humanist officiants, or, for that matter, anyone who wants to sign up to perform weddings, should be a given. I see no reason why a wedding must be done by someone with an official title. If I wanted my gardener to perform my wedding, he should be able to go to City Hall and get that right. Performing weddings isn’t rocket science.

  19. laurentweppe says

    What a strange world we live in, where Jedi weddings are “crazy” but Catholic weddings are not!

    Of course, Crazy Jedi Wedding are, for they attachment enshrine:

    Attachement leads to fear of loosing your loved one. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering

  20. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Ah, yes, the HRC: “Don’t Panic! We hate the trannies, too, and are certainly not advocating for the human rights of them!” gambit.

  21. dingojack says

    Here, you hire a celebrant (who is the equivalent of a Notary or J.P), have any ceremony (or none) you like*, then do the actual ‘wedding’ bit – signing the papers.
    Dingo
    ——–
    * you can even do it on the beach, in Federation Square or in the Dismal Swamp (if you you want to)

  22. randytoad says

    Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist churches have been performing Humanist weddings for quite some time. My own wedding performed in a UU church included not one word about gods.

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