Opinion Former Article

Calls grow to legalise humanist ceremonies

Calls are growing on Government to give humanist weddings legal recognition in England and Wales as new findings suggest that humanist ceremonies are more popular than ever before. Almost 15 million people in Britain (30%) have attended a humanist ceremony and close to seven million (14%) want a humanist funeral for themselves when they die. These new findings from YouGov come as the British Humanist Association (BHA) launches a new animation voiced by Stephen Fry bringing to life what non-religious ceremonies can mean to people.

Isabel Russo, Head of Ceremonies at the BHA, said, ‘People choose us because they want a meaningful non-religious ceremony that genuinely reflects the values they hold. Working with a trained celebrant, our clients mark the most significant moments in their lives, be it the naming of a child, a marriage, or the death of someone close. We recognise that each of these events, while universal experiences, are unique for those closely involved. There is only one chance to get it right and we work hard to fulfil the needs of those we work with to make each ceremony the best it can be, free from the constraints of a religious context.’

The data published today shows 68% of people in Britain – just under 35 million people – are aware of humanist ceremonies and 30% of people have attended one or more humanist ceremonies. However, there are still challenges to overcome in making sure that people have access to humanist ceremonies for themselves.

Russo continued, ‘In Scotland, where humanist marriages are legally recognised, humanist ceremonies are now the most popular type of belief-based ceremony, and many more people are aware of humanist ceremonies and want one for themselves. In England and Wales, in spite of public support, the Government has still not acted to give the same legal recognition, so that’s a big barrier to greater public awareness. Many people simply aren’t aware that a humanist ceremony is an option. There are still a significant number of people, especially in more rural areas, who feel that funerals are traditionally conducted by the local vicar, regardless of religious beliefs. In fact, we have a national network of trained and accredited celebrants. People have a right to be able to choose the ceremony that is right for them and need to be more aware of the alternatives on offer. That’s what we hope our new animation today will help us achieve.’

Pavan Dhaliwal, BHA Director of Public Affairs, added, 'Government has dragged its feet on this issue since 2013, in spite of being given the power by Parliament to give legal recognition to humanist marriage in that year. Couples of nearly every religion from Judaism to Scientology and Christianity can already have a legal marriage ceremony which embodies their beliefs and values and which is conducted by someone who shares their beliefs. All we are asking for is to be afforded that same basic right. Non-religious people in Scotland have that right. People across the rest of Britain deserve it too.'

Notes

The British Humanist Association provides a network of trained and accredited celebrants to take non-religious funerals, weddings and naming ceremonies in England, Wales and Northern Ireland,  who can be contacted via the Humanists Ceremonies website.

It’s been over three years now since the British Humanist Association secured an amendment to the Marriage Act as it went through Parliament, requiring the Government to consult on giving legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales. That subsequent consultation showed 95% in favour. But instead of acting on that mandate, the Government referred it to the Law Commission. Following the publication of its report the EU referendum overtook events and the matter remained unresolved.

For media inquiries, please contact: Pavan Dhaliwal on pavan@humanism.org.uk or 07738 435059

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from two YouGov Plc surveys.  The surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Total sample size for one survey was 4,085 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 28th – 29th July 2016.  For the second, total sample size was 4,375 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 29th November – 1st December 2016. See data below.

https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Results-for-RELEASE-Ceremonies-313-01.8.2016-q5.xlsx
https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Results-for-RELEASE-Funerals-OMNI_509-01.12.16.xlsx

According to the ONS, the GB 18+ population is 49,921,573.

Based on the YouGov results and calculations by the British Humanist Association:

29.62% of people in Britain have attended a humanist ceremony.  This equates to 14,786,769 Brits
13.51% of people in Britain would want a humanist funeral for themselves.  This equates to 6,744,405 Brits
68.17% of people in Britain are aware of humanist ceremonies.  This equates to 34,031,536 Brits
Stephen Fry’s Humanist Ceremonies video is available to view on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzTXicmkrQ4.

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