A couple who are getting married on Westward Ho! beach are making a High Court challenge next week to call for humanist marriages to be legally recognised.
Jennifer McCalmont and Finbar Graham from Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland, plan to wed in a humanist ceremony in late July on the beach near Northam Burrows where they first went on holiday together.
Jenny’s parents Lesley and Dave Wooldridge live at Northam and although humanist marriages are recognised in Northern Ireland, the couple wanted their ceremony to be somewhere that means a great deal to them.
On July 7-8 and as lead claimants, they will be joining five other couples at the High Court in a case supported by Humanist UK calling for recognition in England and Wales, as it is in NI and Scotland and as it is for all religious marriages in the UK.
Humanists believe in reason and science and do not believe in an afterlife or the supernatural, making decisions ‘based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals’, to quote Humanist UK.
Jenny, a civil servant, and landscape gardener Finbar, are working with celebrant Kevin Murphy for their humanist ceremony, but under current law it would also require a trip to the registry office afterwards.
In a statement, they said: “Humanism resonates with us as it is concerned with the relationships humans have with each other and focuses on being caring, kind, and making the most of the one life we have.
“We come from two separate religious backgrounds which neither of us practices and so we didn’t want to be hypocritical in having a religious ceremony.
“Living in Northern Ireland we could simply have a legally recognised humanist marriage here but Westward Ho! is special to us as it was the first place we holidayed together.
“We fell in love with the beach and we want it to be part of our special day. Not being able to have the ceremony we want will undoubtedly undermine the significance of the day and devalue our beliefs. The current law discriminates against us as humanists.”
Humanists UK said parliament gave powers in 2013 to give legal recognition to humanist marriages but no Government has ever used it.
Since then, it said more than 6,000 couples have been denied legal recognition for their humanist wedding, either having to go to a state registrar for an unwanted second ceremony, or not be legally married.
During the High Court case, which is set to start on Tuesday, July 7, lawyers for Humanist UK will argue that the current law discriminates against the couples because of their humanist beliefs and is therefore incompatible with human rights legislation.
Humanists UK chief executive Andrew Copson said: “Couples who have humanist weddings see that day as the epitome of their love and commitment to each other, and all they want is the same legal recognition for that as is given to every religious person in our country. “We have tried for decades to address this glaring double standard. Government has dragged its heels and that’s why it’s been left to these couples to bring this case.
“As more and more non-religious couples choose to have humanist weddings, we need a law that works for all people who want to marry and we hope this case will lead to reform.”
Ciaran Moynagh, solicitor at law firm Phoenix Law, added: “The time for asking to be accommodated is over. The courts are now the only appropriate and realistic method of moving this issue on.
“Following a successful case in Northern Ireland momentum is on our side and I believe couples who look forward to a legally recognised humanist ceremony should take great heart and hope from that.”