Humanist Weddings are Flourishing - What are They and Why Would You Have One?
In 2004 there were 287 humanist weddings in England and Wales. In 2016 there were 1,051.
9 June 2019
All Credits: PA
Newspaper headlines have spent decades declaring the decline of marriage, but now one group of newlyweds is bucking the trend.
New figures from the Office of National Statistics suggest that, though faith-based marriage has continued to lose ground, ‘humanist’ weddings are flourishing, up 266% in England and Wales in the period between 2004 (when there were 287 such ceremonies) and 2016 (when there were 1,051).
But what are humanist marriages, and why would you bother having one?
What is a humanist wedding?
A humanist wedding, briefly, is a personalised, secular ceremony that directly takes the place of a more traditional, religious wedding.
In practice, this means that the traditional tropes of marriage go out the window. There’s no Bridal Chorus (unless you want it), no sermons (unless you want one), and certainly no promise to ‘obey’.
In fact, prior agreements permitting, humanist weddings can happen anywhere, at any time, and in any number of unique ways. It’s entirely up to the wedding party to choose the words and formalities that represent them, though there are a few popular rituals.
‘Wedding band warming’ is one option – passing the rings around the guests to warm them and sprinkle them with kind words – as is ‘handfasting’, a Celtic tradition that binds the betrothed couple’s hands with a ribbon.
Many couples choose to keep more traditional marital elements in some form. Pronouncements are made, vows exchanged, and readings delivered – though usually in the form of a meaningful poem, or a more general lecture on love.
How do I put on a humanist wedding?
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, humanist weddings share the same legal rights as religious ceremonies. In England and Wales they do not (yet), so couples will often hurry through a superficial service at a local registry office before beginning the festivities in earnest.
The ‘double-ceremony’ is more expensive and can be a hassle to plan, so some couples simply choose to remain legally unmarried. In Scotland, the proportion of humanist marriages overtook that of Church of Scotland nuptials in 2015, and according to recent statistics obtained by Humanists UK humanist marriages are least likely to end in divorce, compared with other types of weddings.
Rather than clergymen preaching from the altar, humanist weddings are presided over by a ‘celebrant’ – a trained master of ceremonies who will agree a uniquely-designed order of service with the couple in advance.
Celebrants also offer humanist funerals and naming ceremonies, and have offered same-sex marriages for more than two decades.