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Appeal set for 19 June in Northern Ireland humanist marriage case

A date has now been set for the Court of Appeal hearing in the ongoing case to secure legal recognition for humanist marriages in Northern Ireland. The case involves humanists Laura Lacole, a model and public speaker, and Eunan O’Kane, a footballer with the Republic of Ireland and Leeds United. The couple, backed by Humanists UK, won their case at the Belfast High Court on Friday, but the decision has been appealed to the Court of Appeal. A hearing has now been scheduled for Monday 19 June.

The couple are due to wed on 22 June, and as such the case was expedited through the High Court to ensure a decision was reached in time for their wedding. That meant that having received permission for their case to be heard before the High Court on 9 May, the case had its full hearing just 17 days later, on 26 May. Just 14 days after that, on the morning of 9 June, the High Court ruled in their favour, thus extending legal recognition to humanist marriages in Northern Ireland. But that afternoon the Northern Ireland Attorney General chose to appeal the ruling, meaning that the Court of Appeal will hear the case just ten days after the High Court’s decision. This then leaves a further two days for it to rule before the wedding is due to take place.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘The Attorney General is spending a surprising amount of effort and public money just to stop two people in love from getting married in the way they wish. We very much hope that he will be unsuccessful, both for Laura and Eunan’s sake, as well as that of the thousands more couples who are set to benefit from the original court ruling.’

About the case and its likely impact

The case has been taken on human rights grounds, targeting the discriminatory law that has meant that religious people are able to have legal marriage ceremonies in line with their beliefs, but humanists have, until now, not been able to do likewise.

Legal recognition has already had a transformative effect on Scottish and Irish society. In Scotland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2005, and have risen in number from 85 in the first year to over 4,300 in 2015, overtaking the Church of Scotland in the process. In the Republic of Ireland, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012. In 2015 around six percent of legal marriages were humanist, more than three times as many as there were (Protestant) Church of Ireland marriages.

In England and Wales, marriage law is different from in Northern Ireland and Scotland. But as the case was taken on human rights grounds, the underlying principles are very similar, and so this case may have some impact. Since 2013 the UK Government has had the power to extend legal recognition if it wishes, but hasn’t chosen to use this power yet.

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson on richy@humanism.org.uk or 0781 55 89 636, or Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator on boyd.sleator@nihumanists.org or on 07470 395090.

Press are free to use images made available by the couple:

Image 1: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/20161006-307934809.jpg
Image 2: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-05-09_08.58.46.jpg
Image 3: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/12132490_776745909119411_6736818170228114657_o-1.jpg
Laura Lacole is also available for interviews, which can be arranged through Richy.

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns around marriage laws: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/marriage-laws/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

Northern Ireland Humanists is a part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland.

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