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Humanist weddings - key vote is passed in House of Lords

July 10, 2013 5:07 PM
By Toby Keynes, Chair, HSLD

This afternoon, Wednesday 10th July 2013, the House of Lords has just voted by acclamation to start the process that should lead to humanist weddings being legally recognised in England and Wales within a year or two.

Amendment 90 to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill requires the government to arrange a review to determine whether non-religious belief organisations should be able to conduct legally-recognised weddings, and how this should be regulated, and to produce a report by the 1st of January 2015. It then allows the government to introduce any necessary legislation and regulations by order.

This is now part of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which should complete its passage through the House of Lords next Monday and then return to the Commons.

There has been a fierce campaign against same-sex marriage, led by a small but persistent group who have put forward numerous amendments designed to wreck or weaken the bill, but so far every single vote on these amendments has been overwhelmingly defeated, usually by a margin of at least two to one, and it's now clear that the bill should pass through its final stages reasonably smoothly.

The bill, when it becomes law, will make a huge difference for gay and lesbian couples, allowing them to become married just like any heterosexual couple, without discrimination. It will also make life much easier for couples where one partner changes sex, although there is still work to be done in that area.

Non-religious couples (including gay and lesbian humanists) will have to wait a little longer, because the bill was never intended to cover them, meaning that the government has not consulted on the best way to regulate their marriages and who can conduct those marriages.

However, it has became clear as the bill progressed that there is widespread support for humanist marriage in both houses, and that not a single MP or peer is prepared to stand up and oppose it in principle, and it now seems almost certain that the report will come down in favour and that the necessary changes will come about soon after.

So this is a great day for humanist couples throughout England and Wales: the day on which legal recognition of humanist weddings became almost inevitable.

Of course, Scotland is way ahead of England and Wales here: humanist weddings have legally recognised there since 2005, and are already the second most common weddings, behind the Church of Scotland but way ahead of Catholic weddings. In contrast, Scotland is scurrying to catch up on same-sex marriage, with the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill introduced on 26th June.

We're immensely proud of the part Liberal Democrats have played, in ensuring that both same-sex marriage and legal recognition of humanist weddings became party policy, of LGBT+ LibDems and, yes, of HSLD, who brought both principles to the conference chamber and ensured that they became party policy, of MPs Lynne Featherstone, Julian Huppert, Stephen Gilbert and Stephen Williams, and peers Sal Brinton, Liz Barker, Anthony Lester and Jim Wallace, who have all played key roles in bringing the bill this far, and of all those others who have pushed, cajoled and negotiated to find a place for humanist marriage in the bill.

We owe them all our heartfelt thanks, and our continuing support until the bill becomes law.

The next vigil outside Parliament takes place during the Lords Third Reading, throughout next Monday, 15th July. LGBT+ LibDems are the main organisers, and there should be speakers, music, celebration and appearances from leading LibDem supporters in both houses. We hope humanists too will turn out for this special occasion. You can find more information, and updates, at https://www.facebook.com/events/154668104719847/