10:54, June 28 42 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-28 10:54:33
Couple say court ruling is 'a step forward' for humanist weddings

An international footballer and a model who won the right to have a lawful humanist wedding in Northern Ireland have failed to secure a judicial declaration for a wider law change after judges said existing legislation meant it was not needed.

The appeal court judges in the case of the model Laura Lacole and the Leeds United and Republic of Ireland footballer Eunan O’Kane, ruled against a wider law change on humanist marriages but said existing laws already avoided discrimination.

The three judges found the current law enables couples to apply for temporary authorisation for a humanist celebrant to conduct marriages. For this reason, the court in Belfast said the definition of legal marriages did not need to be expanded to incorporate specific “beliefs” such as humanist.

Despite losing the substantive case, Lacole welcomed the finding as a “step forward”, insisting a precedent had been set for couples to have legally recognised humanist weddings in the region.

The couple originally went to court because they were refused temporary authorisation from Northern Ireland’s General Register Office (GRO) when they applied. They won the right to have their ceremony legally recognised.

In the couple’s original high court victory last year, the trial judge had ruled that the law should be altered to include the term “or beliefs” among definitions of religious ceremonies.

An appeal by Northern Ireland’s attorney general, John Larkin, Stormont’s Department of Finance and the GRO was allowed by the appeal court judges on Thursday. The granting of that authorisation was not appealed against.

Humanism is a non-religious belief system that rejects the concepts of a higher deity or afterlife, believing humans steer their own destiny.



Humanist marriages are already legally recognised in Scotland, but not in England and Wales. They are also recognised in the Republic of Ireland.

Lacole said while the law would not be changed, the consequences of the appeal court ruling meant couples now had a clear pathway to have lawful humanist ceremonies. “I am really happy,” she said outside the court of appeal in Belfast.



“The fact we are now walking away having the door be opened for the non-religious in Northern Ireland to have a humanist ceremony befitting of their beliefs is amazing.



“So other people can ultimately have the wedding we had, and that was the goal – so we are really happy.”



The couple’s lawyer, Ciaran Moynagh, also drew positives from the judgment. “Essentially it does open the door today that humanist ceremonies will be recognised in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The initial ask was that ‘belief’ was read into the legislation or the legislation was declared incompatible and that would have made the government seriously consider the marriage law and look at rewriting it or changing provisions in it.



“Today we did not get that declaration of incompatibility or ‘read in’, we got an alternative saying there is a solution already in the existing law and you should use that.”



The lawyer added that it would now be difficult for the GRO to reject future applications for temporary authorisation, given what the judges had said.



“If the government decided to have a blanket ‘no’ on the temporary authorisation then this matter could quickly come back to court,” he added.

Andrew Copson, the chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “We are delighted at the outcome of this hearing, which will enable thousands of couples to get married in a way that is personal and meaningful to them. Laura and Eunan have fought bravely for what is simply a matter of fairness, and their efforts in succeeding must be highly commended.

“As for England and Wales, now is the time for action. They are now isolated as the only parts of Britain and Ireland where humanist marriage is not recognised.”’

Humanists UK has written again to the British government, calling on it to make arrangements for legal recognition as soon as possible.

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