JULY 22, 2022 by Stephen McLaren
Humanist Weddings in England and Wales

When I ask newly engaged couples if they have seen a humanist wedding before, almost everyone says yes - or at least one of the couple says yes. Since 2005, Humanist wedding ceremonies have been legally recognised in Scotland. We are getting ever closer to the 20th Anniversary of this landmark moment and back then, the floodgates opened. Humanist wedding ceremonies grew in popularity prior to their legal recognition, (thanks in part to wonderful Celebrants like our very own chairperson and founder, Ron McLaren) but when they became legal in Scotland, this welcome and much-needed option was a game-changer. Year after year, more and more couples embraced this choice at an astonishing rate. Now, seventeen years on, there are more Humanist weddings than weddings in the Church of Scotland and the Catholic church combined.

It seems the same progression will happen at some point in England and Wales, following a new proposal from Professor Nick Hopkins, commissioner for family law at the Law Commission. He wrote in the Guardian on Tuesday 19th July 2022:


“Current law (in England and Wales) means that couples face a highly restrictive choice of locations, and further unnecessary rules dictating the content of their ceremonies. 

It is hard to justify such a confusing and out-of-date system. 

That is why the Law Commission, the independent body of which I am a commissioner, is proposing a fundamental overhaul of wedding laws; a new scheme that meets the needs and beliefs of couples today, and supports and celebrates marriage.”

“At the heart of our approach is shifting regulation away from the building where a wedding can take place towards the officiant who would oversee the ceremony. 

This change would open up a wealth of venue possibilities, giving couples the freedom to marry in places such as the beach, their local village hall or their home. 

Under our system, nature-loving couples would, for example, have the option of holding a ceremony in a forest, on a hilltop or in an orchard. A cruise-ship wedding would get the green light for those more comfortable at sea.”


Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent, The Guardian, added:

“The proposed reforms would also potentially expand the pool of people who could act as officiants to all nominated by religious or non-religious organisations, as well as independent officiants aged 18 and over. Independent officiants would have to apply to be individually registered and show they are “fit and proper” persons.”


Professor Hopkins adds some reassurance:

“Our reforms would not result in unfettered freedoms; weddings would have to be dignified and safe, all approved by the officiant. Publicity and legal safeguards would be kept or enhanced to ensure that there is a lower risk of sham, forced or predatory marriages.”


And he continues:

“But these options don’t just mean more personalisation – they also mean saving money. With financial pressures hitting hard, the choice of having simpler, cheaper weddings will help couples to dramatically drive down costs.

Our reforms would not result in unfettered freedoms; weddings would have to be dignified and safe, all approved by the officiant. Publicity and legal safeguards would be kept or enhanced to ensure that there is a lower risk of sham, forced or predatory marriages.

Underpinning the reforms is the idea that the same laws would largely apply to everyone. This would mean untangling the hodgepodge of conflicting laws across different beliefs and replacing them with universal rules for all. 

This wouldn’t undermine religious marriages, and couples would still be free to decide the location and content of their ceremonies.

The traditional Anglican church wedding preceded by banns will continue as usual, for example. But there will be more freedom for couples and religions not served by the current law to have wedding ceremonies that honour their beliefs. Our changes will also create a path to making non-religious belief ceremonies, such as humanist weddings legally recognised – if permitted by the government.”


Alice Roberts, president of Humanists UK said, earlier in July 2022:

“More and more people are turning to a humanist way of marking the milestone events of life: the birth of a child, celebrating a marriage and remembering a loved one. 

The government said a couple of years ago that it would make humanist weddings legal, but it has dragged its feet. The government needs to make this happen soon.”


The rationale behind all this is common knowledge, here in Scotland. The laws in Scotland offer couples a choice and it has been a powerful change that supports the freedom of choice for people who might normally be marginalised. 

Same-sex weddings are (quite rightly), legally recognised in Scotland. Personal freedom has to be at the heart of how people exist. We must be unconstrained by narrow views and rules based on archaic beliefs. We know only too well how changes in the law that affect fundamental freedoms of choice can be forced upon us by undemocratic systems. The situation surrounding abortion rights in the USA, (apparently a democratic country), is a shocking step back to the stone age if this horrific legislation is allowed to proceed.

A wonderful scene: a Humanist Wedding Ceremony under the bows of a couple's favourite tree where they walk their dog, Newhailes Estate, Musselburgh

Within all this lies the humanist ethos: live life fully, with opportunity, choice and respect. Treat others as you wish to be treated and accept the responsibility you have as a human being. You have the power to create a positive and meaningful life that affects everything around you. You can and should live your life without prejudice.

We all know the mantra: “POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” Humanism is all about POWER TO YOUR MIND! Our minds must be free and open and the rules surrounding us must be free and open too. Any improvements in the laws that affect how we live our lives are welcome and knowing how slow progress always seems to be, I must paraphrase the wonderful Dr Alice Roberts: 

‘Come on, everyone, get on with it!’ 

It’s about time England and Wales caught up with the progressive approach we have in Scotland and bravo to us for being leaders once again.


Stephen McLaren, Vice-chair, Humanism in Scotland 2022


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