Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig join LGBTQ+, sexual health and human rights groups to call for the immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales

Graham Robson April 18, 2023

Sandi Toksvig and Stephen Fry have led LGBTQ+ groups and activists in calling on the UK Government to grant legal recognition to humanist marriages in England and Wales immediately, in an open letter published today (Tuesday, April 18).

The letter focuses on the impact a change in the law would have for same-sex couples. Among those to sign are the LGBTQ+ groups affiliated to the three biggest political parties: LGBT+ Conservatives, LGBT+ Labour, and LGBT+ Liberal Democrats; and leading LGBTQ+, sexual health and human rights groups: Stonewall, Terrence Higgins TrustPeter Tatchell Foundation, the LGBT Foundation, and the LGBT+ Consortium.

The letter follows on from the publication of the Census results by religion and sexual orientation, which revealed for the first time that most LGBTQ+ people are non-religious. Sixty-three per-cent of people who said on the Census that they are lesbian, gay, and bisexual also ticked ‘No religion’. It also follows on from the decision in the last few months of the Church of England to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages, and research published by Humanists UK last autumn that revealed that less than 1% of places of worship in England and Wales offer same-sex marriages.

These things, the letter’s authors say, is why enacting recognition of humanist marriages would be such a significant move for LGBT couples – something the Government has the power to do.

More generally, a higher share of same-sex couples are humanists than Christians. If both humanist and Church of England marriages were legally recognised, then there will probably be more same-sex humanist marriages than same-sex Anglican marriages.

Humanist marriages have faced constant review in England and Wales for the past ten years. The Marriage Act 2013 allows humanist marriages to be given legal recognition by Order, a power that the Government has yet to use. All Humanists UK wedding celebrants conduct same-sex weddings.

The letter reads:

Dear Rt Hon Dominic Raab,

As LGBTQ+ people, groups, and allies, we are coming together to call for the immediate legal recognition of humanist marriages in England and Wales. We are doing so following new statistics showing that 63% of people who said on the Census they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual ticked ‘No religion’.

Legal recognition would have a profound impact on LGBTQ+ couples. Few religious groups offer same-sex marriages. The lack of recognition of humanist marriages only reduces same-sex couples’ options further. As the law currently stands, if a couple wants a humanist wedding, they must undergo a second, unwanted civil ceremony to be married in the eyes of the law. This entails a significant financial and administrative burden. Considering the Census figures, this is an all the more unacceptable state of affairs.

Humanist celebrants belong to a staunchly pro-LGBTQ+ tradition, with a proud history of conducting same-sex weddings decades before the law caught up. And when it finally did, humanists were at the forefront of the campaign for change.

LGBTQ+ couples in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, and the Channel Islands already have legally recognised humanist marriages, and the first same-sex marriages in Scotland were humanist. But the matter has been under review in England and Wales for a decade now. That’s more than long enough. If the UK wants to be a global leader when it comes to promoting the freedoms of LGBTQ+ people, it must recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales.

Andrew Copson, Humanists UK Chief Executive, said: “Legal recognition of humanist marriages would be good for couples, good for marriage, and good for the economy. It would strengthen freedom of religion or belief and level England and Wales up to match Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is what the public wants. It is past time it happens.”