08:35, June 09 71 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-09 08:35:04

 

Model and Leeds United footballer win fight for humanist wedding

A footballer and a model have won their court battle to have their humanist wedding recognised as legal in a ruling that effectively changes the law in Northern Ireland.

Eunan O’Kane, Leeds United and Republic of Ireland midfielder, and model Laura Lacole can now press ahead with their ceremony in less than two weeks.

The couple, both humanists, took their case to Belfast high court in May, arguing that they were being denied the rights given to religious couples.

They told the court they wanted a ceremony that reflected their beliefs, but the only legal options available to them were a religious or civil service.

In a ruling delivered on Friday, the court permitted the couple a legally valid humanist wedding ceremony. Reacting to the ruling, Lacole said: “We’re delighted to have won our case today. It means that in two weeks’ time we can legally marry in a way that reflects our beliefs.

“Our humanist ceremony will speak to our values and the love Eunan and I have for each other in a way no other marriage ceremony could. We’re thrilled that our action has extended the same choice to thousands of other couples.”

According to Humanists UK, which backed the case, the ruling’s impact “is that humanist marriages immediately gain legal recognition across Northern Ireland”. It urged Westminster parties to take heed.

The law in England and Wales – and Northern Ireland until now – stipulates that non-religious weddings must be conducted at a local authority register office or an approved and licensed wedding venue. Any other non-religious ceremony is not legally recognised without an additional civil registration service.

In Scotland, humanist weddings have been legal since 2005. Eighty such weddings were conducted that year, but the number rose to almost 4,300 in a decade, exceeding those conducted by the Church of Scotland.

Lacole, 27, and O’Kane, 26, claimed they faced discrimination under European laws protecting freedom of belief.

She said she and O’Kane wanted “to have an intimate marriage ceremony, which is encompassing of who we are as individuals, the values we hold, how we go about life and our viewpoint on life.

“We want it to be personal to us and the love we have for each other. So of course, not being able to have legal recognition for that ceremony is an issue for us, and we want to do something about that for ourselves and other people in our position.”

After the ruling, Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “This case is a great result for fairness and equality in Northern Ireland, meaning that humanists can now have humanist wedding ceremonies that match their personal beliefs, are conducted by a celebrant who shares their values, and – for the first time – have legal recognition.

“We look forward to working with the Northern Irish authorities to see this recognition put into practice. And we urge all Westminster parties to take heed, as England and Wales are now left as the only part of the UK or Ireland where such recognition is still lacking.”

O’Kane and Lacole, a vice-chair of Atheists NI, have invited 250 guests to their wedding on 22 June. It will be a traditional wedding, Lacole told the Guardian last month. “I’ll be wearing a white dress and there’ll be bridesmaids and a page boy.”

She added: “We just want a wedding that embodies our beliefs.”