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Register Office instructs council to ‘be prepared’ to conduct humanist weddings

'Celebrants' will be appointed to conduct humanist or non-religious ceremonies after court ruling

Council has been told it must be prepared to perform humanist weddings within the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon borough.

It comes following the outcome of a judicial review in Ballymena, after a couple were refused such a ceremony.

Now the General Register Office has written to Council chief executive Roger Wilson to advise that it must be in a position to perform this civil ceremony when required.

This will see the appointment of ‘celebrants’, which will likely take place on a wedding to wedding basis.

They will not be an employee of the council but will ensure humanist ceremonies can be accommodated.

Celebrant is the name given by humanists to someone who writes and conducts humanist or non-religious ceremonies.

It was in June of last year that a civil marriage was carried out by a humanist celebrant in Ballymena.

But it only came after a judicial review of the current legislation (2003 Marriage Order) regarding the types of marriages offered in Northern Ireland.

Early last year the couple had been refused a humanist wedding by the General Register Office and the High Court ruled in their favour after they followed the review process.

The Department of Finance and General Register Office appealed but, due to the time that would be required to complete the appeal process, Registrar General Siobhan Carey CBE was instructed by an interim judgment to facilitate the marriage.

The couple were married by a humanist celebrant in June 2017.

A year after the couple wed and the outcome of an appeal against the successful judicial review, which permitted them to do so, has now been issued.

And the Appeal Court – after deliberations – has ordered the General Register Office to “broaden the interpretation” of Article 31 of the 2003 Marriage Order to include the appointment by councils of humanist celebrants.

Article 31 refers to ‘Registrars and other staff’ in the context of civil marriages, therefore weddings solemnised by humanist celebrants will be civil.

Northern Ireland Registrar General Siobhan Carey CBE has written to ABC Council chief Roger Wilson to advise how the changes need to be addressed and what it will mean locally for staff – and those wishing to wed in humanist ceremonies – within the borough.

She states: “GRO are currently amending procedures to facilitate the approval of humanist celebrants and are working to assess the longer term impact of the judgment.

“The changes required in the short term are: 1) using a new version of the marriage notice form, 2) GRO determining the suitability of humanist celebrants for each wedding and 3) the council appointing the approved humanist as a temporary celebrant for the marriage detailed in the notice form.

“As part of the process to appoint a humanist celebrant GRO will need to inform the council of successful applicants.”.

She has asked to nominate an “appropriate person or role” who will coordinate these appointments.

They will receive details of approved humanist celebrants from General Register Office, inform the Registrar of the celebrant’s appointment and send the appointment letter.

Registrar General Carey added: “Although appointments will initially be on a marriage by marriage basis this may change after the review.

“It is important in this period that we get all the documentation and processes right in each case so that for each marriage we have the approval of the celebrant in place, the temporary appointment letter specifying the celebrant, the marriage and the date accurately and clarity about the respective responsibilities of the celebrant and the registrar in the context of a civil wedding conducted by a humanist celebrant.”

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