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No right (as yet) to be married legally in a humanist ceremony: R (on the application of Harrison and others) v Secretary of State for Justice [2020] EWHC 2096 (Admin)

Date:25 NOV 2020
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Mary Welstead, CAP Fellow, Harvard Law School, Visiting Professor in Family Law, University of Buckingham

In July 2020, six humanist couples brought an application for judicial review on the grounds that marriage law in England and Wales was discriminatory because it did not give legal recognition to any marriage conducted by a humanist celebrant. Their application was declined. Mrs Justice Eady's judgment was interesting, intricate and lengthy. The judge gave a detailed account of: humanist beliefs, the outdated law of marriage, and Art 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (the Convention) relating to discrimination.

The reason for the rejection of the couple's application was because the Secretary of State for Justice maintained that he was justified in not addressing the issue of humanist marriage until after the outcome of the Law Commission's current work on the reform of wedding law. 

The judgment appears to confuse the work of the Law Commission which is about weddings and not about the expansion of the categories of those who can marry in accordance with their beliefs. Whatever recommendations the Law Commission makes with respect to wedding law, humanists will remain outside of the current categories of those who may marry in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The article ends by suggesting that the only way forward is for all marriages in England and Wales to be conducted by way of a civil ceremony in a register office. Couples would then be free to follow this ceremony in a place of their choice and in accordance with their beliefs. 


The full article will be published in the December issue of Family Law

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