DEAGLÁN de BRÉADÚN, Political CorrespondentTHE GOVERNMENT is expected to agree today to back legislation giving humanists the same status as organised religions and civil registrars in conducting marriage ceremonies.
Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton is due to ask her ministerial colleagues to support the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill at this morning’s Cabinet meeting.
The legislation was introduced in the Seanad as a Private Members’ Bill by Trinity College Senator Ivana Bacik and is due to pass final stages in the Upper House tomorrow.
The Bill proposes to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004, which regulates the registration of civil marriages.
The 2004 Act stipulates that, apart from Health Service Executive registrars, only a member of a “religious body” may celebrate legal marriages.
This is defined as “an organised group of people, members of which meet regularly for common religious worship”.
This includes organisations such as the Pagan Federation Ireland and the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, which have obtained registration under the Act.
But the definition excludes members of the Humanist Association of Ireland, who currently conduct humanist wedding ceremonies even though these are not legally recognised.
The Bill proposes to extend the right to conduct civil marriages to nonreligious groups such as the HAI. A group of this nature must be a “philosophical and nonconfessional body”, have been performing marriage ceremonies for at least five years, and at least 20 couples must have participated in the ceremony.
Once the Bill has passed through the Seanad tomorrow, it will proceed to the Dáil, where it is expected to be introduced by Ms Burton.
Brian Whiteside of the HAI said that, in the past, it had been “left out in the cold” but persisted in its efforts to obtain the right to solemnise marriages and have “parity of esteem” with religious bodies.
There had been “no real progress” until the change of government last year, when Ms Bacik agreed to take up their cause.
“As the law stands presently a couple cannot have a legally binding, nonreligious marriage ceremony on a Saturday, as the State registrars work only Monday to Friday,” he added.
The proportion of couples choosing a non-religious, civil wedding ceremony in Ireland has increased from 6 per cent in 1996 to more than 23 per cent in 2006, according to the Central Statistics Office.
Humanism is defined as “an ethical philosophy of life, based on a concern for humanity, which combines reason with compassion”.
The HAI has nine accredited celebrants who conducted 153 marriage ceremonies last year.