Stephanie Pywell, The Open University
Keywords: Celebrants - weddings - officiants - belief organisations - humanists
Should the law permit independent ‘wedding celebrants’ and/or celebrants accredited by belief organisations to solemnise marriages? While neither option is available to couples in England and Wales at present, their counterparts in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland can be married by humanist officiants, and marriages in Jersey can be solemnised by authorised civil celebrants. Recent attempts to redress this situation have focused on celebrants accredited by one group – Humanists UK (HUK; formerly the British Humanist Association). No attention has been paid to the growing number of independent celebrants who offer a similar service; my large-scale survey In January and February this year provided the first academic insight into their work. In this article I analyse celebrants’ responses to some key questions against publicly available information about celebrants accredited by HUK, and existing officiants in neighbouring jurisdictions, concluding that there are no legally significant differences between the two categories of celebrant and the officiants who are currently entitled to solemnise marriages. I therefore argue that the law of England and Wales should incorporate elements from all four neighbouring jurisdictions into a revised legal framework that would give couples the widest possible choice of how, and by whom, they are married.
This article has been accepted for publication in Child and Family Law Quarterly in Issue 3, Vol 32, Year 2020. The final published version of this article will be published and made publicly available here 24 months after its publication date, under a CC-BY-NC licence.