Almost one in three marriages in State ‘non-religious’

Legal advice resolves issue which had blocked couples from marrying outdoors

Weddings must  take place at a location easily identifiable with an address and open to the public at reasonable times.

Weddings must take place at a location easily identifiable with an address and open to the public at reasonable times.

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 01:00

The number of non-religious marriages taking place in the State has increased significnatly, according to official figures which will be published today.

The annual report of the Register General for 2013 will reveal that 29 per cent of marriages last year were civil rather than religious ceremonies. That represents an increase from 23 per in 2007.

However, the total number of marriages taking place has fallen by 2,120 since 2007 with 20,670 couples getting married last year.

The number of marriages increased steadily from 2000 to 2007 but has been in decline since then.

In another development outdoor wedding ceremonies were given the green light after clarification was sought by the Government following a dispute between a leading organiser of secular weddings and the Office of the General Registrar.

Tánaiste Joan Burton confirmed yesterday that Attorney General Máire Whelan had ruled marriages could be solemnised outdoors without a hitch as long as the place was open to the public.

The Humanist Association of Ireland was granted the legal authority to solemnise weddings in late 2012 and will preside over more than 600 ceremonies this year.

Humanist marriages accounted for 1 per cent of all marriages last year.

However, it recently expressed concern after being repeatedly blocked from carrying out the wishes of couples seeking to marry al fresco by the General Registrar’s interpretation of the legislation, which it said was “ so narrow as to not make any sense”.

Under legislation, weddings have to take place at locations which are easily identifiable with an address and are open to the public at reasonable times. The General Registrar has insisted on weddings being held indoors, which meant couples seeking to marry in parks, gazebos, marquees, country house lawns and even hotel roof gardens were prohibited from doing so.

The humanists had multiple exchanges with the General Registrar’s office - which falls under the auspices of the Department of Social Protection - to try to reach a comprise. However, the ban remained in place, prompting the intervention of the Attorney General.

“There has recently been some uncertainty about the definition of ‘a place that is open to the public’, and in order to clarify the matter, my Department sought advice from the Attorney General,” Ms Burton said. “This legal advice has clarified that the definition does include outdoor venues. This will be welcome news for couples wishing to celebrate their wedding day in a way that is most meaningful to them.”

She said that in order to protect both parties to the marriage, the outdoor venue will have to be readily accessible to the public. This would serve to avoid the possibility of coercion, fraud or lack of capacity on the part of a party to a marriage, to prevent marriages taking place in secret, and to provide an opportunity for objections.

The Humanist Association’s chief solemniser Brian Whiteside told The Irish Times today he was “delighted with the result”.