Ask an Atheist with Sam Mulvey

In Scotland, Humanist Weddings Outnumbered Catholic in 2010


With all the talk of engagements and weddings, this seemed appropriate to mention.  From the National Secular Society (and various other sources) comes this neat story:

Humanist weddings are now more popular in Scotland than those conducted by the Catholic Church, according to new figures. From January to September 2010, there were 1,706 weddings led by a humanist celebrant, compared to 1,506 Catholic weddings – making humanist marriages the third most popular.

During the same time period there were 11,569 civil marriages at registry offices across the country and 5,013 Church of Scotland marriages.

Humanist wedding ceremonies have the same legal status as civil and religious weddings as long as they are conducted by a Humanist Society of Scotland celebrant who has been authorised by the Registrar General of Scotland and can be held anywhere “safe and dignified”. Many of the secular ceremonies are conducted in hotels and castles, with some couples even opting to get married at open-air venues.

Not to be a negative Nellie in the face of happy news, but that kind of rubs me the wrong way.  Having been married once myself and planning on doing it again at some point, it’s weird to me to consider having to potentially justify where I’m going to get married.  In fact, I never knew how much other countries regulated the marriage ceremonies of their citizens – for instance, in the UK the law states that a marriage ceremony venue must have a roof, be moored to its foundations, and licensed by the local registrar and that the ceremony must take place between 8am and 6pm.  To me, that seems like a lot of rules for a ceremony between two private people.  But at least those rules are straightforward and easy to follow, I’d say the ambiguity of the language in Scotland’s case is what really bugs me.  Who the hell gets to decide what is and isn’t dignified?  Some people want a church and bells, others want an Elvis impersonator and 20 bucks worth of chips.  Who cares?

Humanist Society of Scotland Convenor Juliet Wilson says, “We are very grateful to the Registrar General of Scotland for granting humanist weddings legal status in 2005, and to registrars around the country for their continuing support. We believe that more and more people are choosing to marry in a humanist ceremony because they identify with the humanist values of equality, reason, compassion and tolerance, and these are the values that bind society together. The rise in popularity of our ceremonies is due in large part to the dedication and professionalism of our celebrants, of whom we are rightly proud.”

Full figures for 2010 are expected to be released by the Registrar General of Scotland in his annual report in August, but these findings suggest humanist weddings have increased in popularity by 2000% since they became legal in Scotland.

That is pretty impressive, considering humanist weddings have only been legally recognized in Scotland for five or so years.  And it ought to serve as an example of why religious organizations might want to keep humanist organizations from gaining legitimacy.  If Scotland is any indication, humanism has the potential to really give religions a run for their money.  That makes sense, however, when you consider the message of humanism and how much it stresses compassion for others as being of paramount importance.

Marriage, in my opinion, ought to be more typically humanist than typically religious anyway.  Two people striving toward a common goal as equal parts of a supportive, communicative team sounds like a way better idea than a nesting doll existence where the hierarchy of importance is static and unchanging in it’s order: God, then man, then woman possibly on par with or only slightly above furniture and livestock.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply that religious marriages are all reflective of that concept, but I think a great deal of them are supposed to be.  And it always makes me wonder – why would any self respecting woman be OK with that?

Anyway, good for you Scotland!  You have wacky food, awesome mythology, good beer, and progressive marriage trends.  I suppose I can forgive you for golf.


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Much more refreshing to see 2 young people celebrating their life together on their own terms and values, than having to get married in a way not only dictated by the weird wedding rules, but also by the influences of their parents. And, I bet printed on the programme, these humanists weddings won’t have _this_ inserted: “5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. 5:24 Therefore as the church… Read more »


Awesome! this story totally made my day, and made me feel a little less strange for having a non-traditional wedding. (thanks again Beth for all your help! you ROCK!) Really hope to see this trend continue!

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