Humanist weddings have come of age
June 23, 2023
Scottish Retreats - Celebrate People

We were delighted to see this article by our co-founder, Susan Douglas-Scott, CBE, in today’s edition of The Herald.

It is incredible to look back over the past 18 years since the Scottish Government enabled legal marriages to be conducted by all faith and belief organisations.  Initially spearheaded by humanist organisations, this has enabled so many people in Scotland to celebrate their marriages in their own way.  The Registrar General of Scotland enabled the first humanist wedding to happen on the 18th of June 2005.

Within ten years, humanist ceremonies became the second most popular form of marriage in the country and by 2021, they accounted for around a third of all marriages.  Indeed, humanist marriage ceremonies are now so common that they have become part of the fabric of Scottish society. They have become the new normal. 

At Celebrate People, a humanist, spiritual and pastoral care organisation, we blend couples’ cultural background and beliefs into a truly personal and meaningful ceremony.  As one of our founding values is equality, we support all couples to consider the old, traditional roots of marriage to have a ceremony that is all about what matters to their relationship. 

This patriarchal view of marriage was strongly held in Scotland before humanist ceremonies became legal. Many couples avoided the legalities and created their union without them.  This has now changed, enabling couples to write and say their own truth in their vows and ceremony, creating a sacred and beautiful moment for them. 

It is a beautiful moment for couple’s families and friends and we love that we hear such positive feedback so often from guests saying, ‘I wish we could have done that in our day!’ The other thing we never get tired of hearing is, ‘That’s the best wedding I’ve ever been to!’  It’s a lovely compliment, but the answer we always give is, ‘That’s because it’s their words, their thoughts, their ceremony’.

The equality we hold close to our hearts was happily reinforced by the introduction of legal same-sex marriage in December 2014 and is very important to us; particularly as co-founders of Celebrate People, Susan and Gerrie Douglas-Scott were the first women to be married in Scotland.  At this same ceremony, Susan married another two women, then Gerrie married another two women.  A hat-trick of equal marriage for six very happy women in the early moments of 31 December 2014. 

Overall, the advent of humanist marriage has had a significant effect on civil society in Scotland for all couples.  In 2019, a BBC survey found that couples who had had a humanist wedding were almost four times less likely to divorce than those who had either a civil or a religious one.  That is one cause for celebration, but an even greater one is that the humanist approach of living our lives with compassion, respect, love, reason and equality has changed the nature of marriage itself. 

Eighteen years later, humanists and belief groups are still campaigning to give couples in England and Wales the same freedom and rights we enjoy in Scotland.  For us, that day can’t come soon enough.

The lovely photo comes from the marriage of Lauren Barkby & Graeme Smith at Ballintaggart Farm on the 21st of August 2022 and it was taken by David Grant Simpson.