The concept of ‘walking up the aisle’ with all the pomp and ceremony that surrounds a traditional church wedding can still be very attractive to couples without strong religious connections. A register office wedding can, meanwhile, seem uninspiring and austere and does not allow for any reference to an individual’s beliefs and values. Even if you choose a civil wedding at an approved venue, there are strict guidelines as to the time, place and wording. No standard marriage can take place outdoors and there is an official vetting of any alternative wording you may wish to be included in the ceremony. If you feel that these restrictions affect to you perhaps a Humanist wedding is your answer.
What is a Humanist wedding?
Humanists do not believe in God, but simply in ‘the good within human beings, in their equality, and in the individual’s right to freedom of choice in the main decisions of life’. Consequently, a humanist wedding allows you to have a ceremony that focuses on these values and beliefs while still allowing you to express your individual personalities. It allows you the freedom to make your own personal choices about vows, music, readings, and venue. Humanist weddings can take place anywhere safe and dignified and, unlike civil ceremonies conducted by a registrar, do not require the couple to get a special license. Your wedding ceremony can be held wherever you like, indoors or out, be it in a marquee, by a river or in your own home.
The Humanist ceremony respects virtually all situations; remarriage after divorce weddings between people of different faiths or of no faith, and ceremonies allowing gay couples to declare their love and commitment to one another (these unions are recognised as a civil partnership).
In England and Wales, Humanist weddings have no legal status, so if you want to be legally married, then you’ll need to have a civil wedding at the register office as well, or to have a registrar present. Under the Marriage Act 1994, many premises are licensed for registration. No religious ceremonies are allowed on the premises, but a non-religious humanist ceremony is permitted after the registrars’ ceremony – when the registrars have left the premises. Obviously this then involves two consecutive ceremonies and it can be more cost effective to visit the Register Office as a formality, and select an affordable venue for the separate Humanist ceremony. See our article on legal requirements for a civil ceremony for more information.
There are twoexceptions to this rule, both of which involve holding the ceremony in a religious building. The first is a marriage in a Unitarian church, either with the minister conducting a non-religious ceremony, or simply registering the marriage after allowing a humanist to conduct the ceremony. The second is quite rare and really is only available to couples that have strong links with a university where the chaplain is prepared to conduct a non-religious ceremony.
The Humanist Society of Scotland, however, has celebrants who are authorised to conduct legal marriages, making Scotland one of only three countries in the world (including Norway and the USA) where Humanist marriage ceremonies have full legal status.
The ceremony must be conducted by a Celebrant of the Humanist Society of Scotland who has been authorised by the Registrar General for Scotland. Since the first Humanist wedding in the UK in June 2005, demand has grown from just over 40 ceremonies in the same year to nearly 500 ceremonies conducted by the Humanist Society of Scotland in 2006, making it the fifth most popular wedding provider in Scotland. The Society now has thirty fully trained registered celebrants performing weddings throughout the country and many couples travel to Scotland specifically to be legally married in a Humanist ceremony.
For more information on the Humanist Society of Scotland and the range of ceremonies it provides, go to www.humanism-scotland.org.uk.
Planning a Humanist wedding
Finding a Celebrant
Weddings are usually officiated by a Celebrant who is a member of the British Humanist Association. However, you can choose to conduct the service yourselves or ask a relative or friend to act as celebrant. In these instances the British Humanist Association will happily give help and advice, if required. Whoever the celebrant may be, it is important that they are absolutely clear as to what they are being asked to do. It should also be remembered that a British Humanist celebrant will charge a fee for conducting the ceremony and, if necessary, travelling expenses. It is advisable to discuss this in advance to avoid any misunderstanding. You must decide on the date, time and place for your Humanist ceremony and agree this with the celebrant ensuring that it ties in with your register office ceremony.
Text, readings and music
The British Humanist Association will give help and advice on writing your vows, readings and music if required, but you can completely write your own vows if you want to.