Couple take legal action over right to Humanist wedding in Northern Ireland

Celebrant Brian Whiteside spoke to Newstalk ahead of the landmark case

Couple take legal action over right to Humanist wedding in Northern Ireland

Image: Britta Pedersen/DPA/PA Images

Tomorrow, a landmark legal case goes before the High Court in Northern Ireland, as a young couple challenges the General Register Office for refusing to officially authorise their Humanist wedding ceremony.

Laura Lacole is due to wed Republic of Ireland midfielder Eunan O'Kane at a venue in Northern Ireland next month.

Lacole’s lawyers claim that she is being discriminated against under European laws protecting freedom of belief.

Lacole said: “Marriage, for all couples, is a celebration of who that couple are, reflecting their deepest held beliefs and values.

“My wishes for my marriage are for it to reflect my deepest humanist values, much as a Christian might see their marriage as of special significance for them.

File photos of Republic of Ireland footballer Eunan O'Kane and Laura Lacole. Image: PA Images

Brian Whiteside, Humanist Celebrant with The Humanist Association of Ireland spoke to The Pat Kenny Show about the differences between a humanist wedding ceremony and one of a religious order.

What is humanism?

Whiteside explains that Humanism is not a religion, rather an ethical life stance - a world view based on philosophy. He said their meetings do not involve worship, a key part of the legal definition in terms of ceremonies.

"If you say that you are a member of a religious group, and you call it whatever, there is a feeling that you have to be respected because you are a religion. All religions have to be respected".

"Initially, the ceremonies we conducted were symbolic - we did not have equality with the Church," he said. "We campaigned for years to get this changed."

The 2016 Irish Census revealed that one in 10 Irish people now identify as non-religious - and the new programme has been created to represent children from these family backgrounds.

The 468,400 respondents who identified as being non-religious marked a 73.6% increase on the 2011 survey – with many commentators arguing the numbers would have been far higher if the questions on the form had been phrased differently.

In the Republic of Ireland, legal recognition was extended in 2012, and in 2015 Humanist marriages became the third most popular type, behind only civil and Catholic.

The first legally-recognised Humanist wedding in Ireland took place in April 2013.

"Up until we go the law changed, the law stated that the only two people who could conduct a legal marriage ceremony were state registrars or members of religious groups. 

"We contacted the registrars office and asked could we be included. We argued that Ireland was changing - there was a new reality where certainly not everyone was religious and there were a lot of people wanting a nice, personal and meaningful ceremony."

Teenagers receive their certificates during the 'Jugendweihe' (lit. 'youth ceremony') at the leisure and recreation center FEZ ('Freizeit- und Erholungszentrum') in Berlin, Germany, 13 May 2017. The 'Jugendweihe' is a secular coming of age ceremony as an equivalent to the Evangelical and Catholic confirmation and pleads to humanist values. Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa

Humanist education in Ireland

Primary schools around the country are being encouraged to include lessons on Humanism in the classroom – after the first-ever lesson plans were made available to teachers this afternoon.

The lessons have been developed by the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI) and the Educate Together network of schools and can be downloaded by teachers at any primary school in the country.