Being humanist: Will a redefining of the law see humanism woven into mainstream society?
By Peter Ross
Published on Sunday 3 February 2013 00:00
ON A blizzard-ridden evening in late January, piped into the back room of the Robin’s Nest pub, Carole McNeice and Dave Lindsay are about to become the 11,307th couple to get married in a humanist ceremony in Scotland.
Carole is 52 and Dave is 59. He has terminal cancer. She doesn’t keep well. “A couple of auld crocks,” Carole laughs later, over a Tia Maria and Coke. Bride and groom, nevertheless, are smiling fit to melt the snow that cloaks the pavements of Chirnside, this village near Duns.
Just a few miles south, across the Border, such a ceremony would not be legally binding. Since 2005, humanist weddings have been permitted by Scottish law, and the forthcoming Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act, if passed, will see humanist weddings recategorised as ‘belief’ ceremonies, meaning there will be three types of marriage in Scotland – religious, civil and belief. This seems to be essentially a tidying-up exercise as humanist weddings are at present categorised as religious, which clearly they are not. The new category recognises the fact that humanism is a sort of philosophy, and anyone choosing to get married is – whether consciously or not – buying into that. It is, therefore, quite different from being married by either church or state.
The new law is likely to weave humanist ceremonies even more tightly into the fabric of society. Such weddings – performed by celebrants from the Humanist Society Scotland, an atheist organisation that aims to promote a secular nation – are the only form of marriage increasing in the UK. In 2011, they overtook the number of Catholic weddings performed in Scotland (2,486 to 1,729) and it is thought by 2015, the Church of Scotland, too, will have been overtaken.