Humanist weddings to have legal status


Humanist weddings will have legal status from next year following the passage of legislation by the Oireachtas.

The Seanad last week passed the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill allowing members of the Humanist Association of Ireland to perform legal civil wedding ceremonies.

The Bill amends the Civil Registration Act 2004, which regulates the registration of civil marriages and stipulates that apart from Health Service Executive registrars, only a member of a “religious body” may celebrate legal marriages. The change extends “the type of organisation that can nominate marriage solemnisers to include secular bodies”, said Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton, who introduced the Bill.

The framing of the legislation to meet the wishes of the humanist community “was a political act of idealism and vision”, she said. “The slow boring of hard boards in the Office of the Attorney General brings that vision of change to fruition.”

Secular body

A secular body is defined in the legislation as being “in existence for at least five years, be an organised group of people who have secular, ethical and humanist beliefs in common, have a minimum of 50 people and meet on a regular basis. It must be a charity and cannot have the making of profit as one of its main purposes.” Ms Burton said the Bill “aims to extend the scope of marriage solemnisers across the spectrum of belief systems and formally acknowledge this in the registration system”.

Of the 19,828 marriages held in 2011, almost 6,000 were civil ceremonies, 29 per cent of all marriages, compared to 6 per cent in 1996.

It was first read in the Seanad as a Private Member’s Bill in November 2011 when introduced by Senator Ivana Bacik (Labour). It was subsequently changed and resubmitted and is now expected to be passed by the Dáil this month. Independent Senator David Norris, who supported the Bill, criticised the failure to allow gay marriage.

He asked if the Government could “understand what it feels like for me to know that whereas a serial murderer, a rapist or somebody convicted of incest can be legally married in this country, I cannot?”