Northern Irish couple seek judicial review

Humanists seek judicial review of Northern Irish authorities over legal recognition of humanist marriages.

A humanist couple, backed by the British Humanist Association (BHA) and its Northern Ireland Humanists section, has gained permission to seek a judicial review of the failure of the Northern Irish authorities to extend legal recognition to humanist marriages.

At the moment, a couple wishing to have a humanist ceremony in Northern Ireland must also have a separate civil registration for their marriage to be legally recognised, meaning that the ceremony that actually matters to them has no status in law.

Humanist couple, model Laura Lacole and Eunan O’Kane, who plays football for Leeds United and the Republic of Ireland national team, are hoping to change this.

A full hearing in the case is scheduled for May 26.

Humanist marriages are currently legally recognised in Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, and in both countries they have proved hugely popular.

In Scotland, such recognition was extended in 2005, and in 2015 for the first time there were more humanist marriages than Church of Scotland marriages.

In Ireland, legal recognition was extended in 2012, and in 2015 humanist marriages became the third most popular type, behind only civil and Catholic. There were over three times as many as there were (Protestant) Church of Ireland.

In Scotland in 2005, legal recognition was extended to humanist marriages after the General Register Office for Scotland reinterpreted existing law, decided that to refuse to do so would constitute a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.

In Northern Ireland, marriage law is very similar to that in Scotland in 2005 – indeed it is based on it. However, earlier this year the General Register Office for Northern Ireland refused to extend such legal recognition to Laura and Eunan, triggering the present case.

Explaining the importance of legal recognition to her, BHA member Laura said: “Marriage, for all couples, is a celebration of who that couple are, reflecting their deepest held beliefs and values.

“My wishes for my marriage are for it to reflect my deepest humanist values, much as a Christian might see their marriage as of special significance for them.

“People of all religions can be legally married in public ceremonies in accordance with their beliefs and by a celebrant who holds the same beliefs and values. My fiancé and I are only asking for the same rights as religious people already have.”

Andrew Copson

Andrew Copson

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson, added: “Humanist weddings are incredibly popular right across the UK and Ireland, and this is especially true where they are given legal recognition.

“UK laws should treat everyone equally, regardless of religion or belief, and so given the recognition given to religious marriages, it is past time that the same recognition is extended to humanist ones.

“We will be supporting Laura and Eunan throughout the case and wish them all the best in their wedding plans.”

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