The Government has published a report declining to allow Humanist marriagesdespite a public consultation which showed over 90% of respondents to be in favour. It is reported that this is the result of their election strategist Lynton Crosby decreeing that nothing "promoting initiatives that are not central to the party’s key election themes of crime, the economy, immigration and welfare" should be taken forward before the General Election.
The reasons given for not agreeing to Humanist Marriages were in summary:
- Location (listed as the key difficulty)
Humanists want the freedom to hold ceremonies anywhere, a right enjoyed by the Quakers and Jews since 1753.
However the Church of England and others entitled to undertake registered marriages are restricted in that they have to use their own buildings and they wish to apply the same restriction to Humanists. The simple answer is to remove the restriction on all the marriage providers and allow them to choose as to whether or not they restrict themselves to their own buildings.
The report states "There is already a difference in treatment between couples professing different religions and no religion. Allowing non-religious belief marriages might reduce this to some extent but not solve the problem."
So rather than improve on the existing situation and then initiate further reform, the government prefers to retain the existing greater level of inequality.
The Church of England (CoE) is opposed to belief marriages taking place at both unrestricted locations and premises approved for civil marriage, on the basis that either option would create an inequality for the majority of religious groups and couples, who are restricted to their registered place of worship.
This is blatantly the Church of England attempting to protect its market position. There is no reason why the churches need to be restricted in the locations where they perform marriages. This should be their own decision.
- Sham Marriages
The existing religious provision has been shown to be wide open to abuse. The BHA celebrants are vetted much more thoroughly than most religious celebrants. The government needs to bring in relevant regulations relating to all registered marriages and this has nothing to do with whether or not Humanist marriages should be recognised.
- Other groups would want to perform marriages
Yes. But there should be no problem authorising the BHA (which is a registered company and charity) by giving them exactly the same rights as the Quakers and then reviewing the legislation.
There are well known problems. The Cohabitation Bill is almost attempting to reinstate Common Law Marriage. The argument against this is that people should not be forced into what is effectively a marriage contract without committing themselves to it.
However one of the most powerful arguments in its favour is that it would provide some protection to Muslim women who enter into a Muslim religious marriage without realising that it is not recognised in English Law.
I suggest that the best solution would be to reform the marriage law so that any organisation that meets laid down criteria for recognition can license celebrants to perform registered marriages. In turn it would be made illegal for anyone else to claim that they were preforming a marriage ceremony.
All aspects of the Marriage Law need review, but this should not prevent Humanist marriages being recognised on the same basis as Quaker and Jewish marriages in the meantime.
- Commercial Marriages
The Government report claims that "Change would open up the solemnization of legally valid marriages to a potentially large number of independent celebrants who may still be paid directly by the couple and able to benefit financially".
This is a bit rich from a Conservative government. Opening up provision would increase choice and competition, normally the mantra of Conservative policy.