Non-religious marriage – should it be allowed?

That’s the question posed by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in its recent consultation. They’ve been asking whether the law should be changed to allow and recognise marriages by non-religious belief organisations. For the purpose of the consultation, the definition of a belief organisation is:

‘an organisation whose principal or sole purpose is the advancement of a system of non-religious beliefs which relate to morality or ethics’

and so might include such groups as humanists, pagans, and freemasons.

Current laws provide for civil marriage, marriage according to the rites of a recognised religion (including Jewish and Quaker ceremonies), and for same sex marriage in either a civil or religious ceremony. Non-religious weddings are not recognised, and there are restrictions on the venue for the ceremony. In Scotland, however, humanist weddings are already allowed – more than 2500 are performed each year – and ceremonies held outdoors are also recognised.

The consultation, which ran from 26th June until 18th September, follows on from the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 – it was one of the requirements of that change in the law, that the MoJ must review whether there should be a further change to permit other organisations to hold marriage ceremonies, as there are issues of equality to be addressed.

The consultation also asked the public which organisations might qualify to be able to conduct such ceremonies (does the Jedi Knight Society count, for example?), where they might take place, what the risks are and what safeguards would need to be put in place.

The results of the consultation have not yet been released, but if the MoJ concludes that there is a case for allowing non-religious marriage, it would mean establishing a third type of legal ceremony, alongside religious and civil ceremonies, for getting married in England and Wales. It would also mean considering how current divorce regulations would need to be adjusted or supplemented to cover the extension in recognised marriage. Whatever the outcome, you can be sure that Andrew Isaacs Solicitors will remain experts in the field.