Marriage is in decline, but legal humanist weddings in Scotland are up by 64%. The General Registrar Office of Scotland has released its statistics on marriage in Scotland in 2007. Marriage overall and religious marriage in particular continue to decline, but the number of marriages conducted by the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) has risen dramatically for the third year running.
In 2007, the HSS conducted 710 legal marriages, 285 more than the 2006 total of 434. This represents an annual rise of 64%, placing it 4th in the GRO’s ‘League Table’, only 48 ceremonies behind the Episcopal Church. The previous year on year rise in 2006, was 429% (from 82 to 434). The 2007 figure exceeds the Society’s own statistical prediction by 5%. If as seems likely, Humanist weddings continue to rise, the Society predicts they will be more popular than Catholic weddings by 2010.
Over the three years since June 12th 2005, when Humanist weddings were made legal, the HSS has risen from 12th (2005) to 6th (2006) to 4th (2007).
While this is impressive growth by any measure, it becomes more interesting in the wider context, where marriage is generally on the decline. According to the General Registrar Office of Scotland, marriage fell by 9% in 2005, a further 4% in 2006 and 0.1% in 2007; in Scotland, the decline in the number of religious weddings is even greater; they fell by 6% in 2005, 7% in 2006 and 4% in 2007. Since 2005, the number of weddings conducted by the Catholic Church has fallen by 3%, while those conducted by the Church of Scotland have fallen by 13%.
HSS Convenor, Jim Petherick says “We’re delighted to see confirmation of what we’ve known for many years, that Humanism offers a coherent ethical structure that lets people take responsibility for their own lives. Humanist weddings are the one form of ceremony where a couple are truly free to make their own promises to one another. This gives it more meaning, for both them and their families and the rise in demand is a reflection of this.”
To meet the demand, the HSS is currently recruiting new celebrants, several from the more remote parts of Scotland. The next training course will have applicants from Lewis, Orkney and Shetland, and it is hoped other would-be celebrants will apply from islands like Skye and Mull, and the remoter parts of the mainland. The HSS has 68 trained and registered celebrants of whom 42 are authorised by the Registrar General of Scotland to conduct legal weddings.
One advantage Humanist weddings have over those conducted by a Registrar is that they do not require the venue to be licensed but can take place where anywhere deemed ‘safe and decent’. Consequently Humanist weddings have taken place in all sorts of locations ranging from hotels and castles to beaches, back gardens and the summit of Ben Nevis.
Although Humanist weddings are classified by the Registrar General of Scotland as a form of religious marriage, Humanism is not a religion, but a secular philosophy or belief system that represents the views of millions of people around the world. Stated simply, Humanists believe that we should behave towards others as we would have them behave towards us, that we can lead good and worthwhile lives guided by reason and compassion rather than religion or superstition, and that there are more things that unite humanity than divide it. Or, as we say in Scotland, “We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns” – we’re all the same under the skin.
Scotland is one of only six countries in the world where Humanist Weddings are legal: the others are Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway and certain states of the USA.