27 April 2015

Demand High for Non-Catholic Weddings

Humanist Wedding
How do you know when the Catholic Church is slowly collapsing? One indicator would be when the traditionally Catholic Ireland allows an atheist group to perform weddings this year for the first time in history. Another indicator is when the few people who performed those non-Catholic rites are overwhelmed by hundreds of couples seeking their services.

According to a report by Tom Heneghan of Reuters, demand for the Humanist Association of Ireland's secular weddings has surged as the moral authority of the once almighty Catholic Church declined in recent decades amid sex abuse scandals and Irish society's rapid secularization.

Statistics also show the rising demand for non-Church weddings. In 1996, 90 percent of Irish weddings were performed by the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland. But by 2010 that percentage had fallen to 69 percent.

The pent-up demand from those who want more than a civil ceremony in a registry office but reject a religious wedding has created a major backlog for the humanist group's ceremonies director.

Brian Whiteside, initially the only humanist "solemnizer" certified to legally marry couples, was already booked well into next year when the civil registry office agreed in late June to approve 10 others, taking some of the pressure off him.

"It remains very, very busy," Whiteside said. "We're all finding it difficult to keep up with the inquiries. We had 595 new inquiries in the first three months of this year, which in a little country like Ireland is quite a few."

The Irish parliament legalized secular wedding services last December, after a 10-year campaign by the Humanist Association. The law went into effect on 1 January 2013. Similar options are also allowed in Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and some U.S. states.

One major attraction of couples to humanist ceremony is that it allows them to express their love and commitment by telling their story in front of their loved ones, in their own words rather than those of a Church or state.

Humanist celebrant, Tim Maguire has married couples in Scotland from many different and diverse backgrounds, and says they often have something in common.

"Most of my conversations with couples begin with them saying, 'We're not religious, but...'"

Also, in the Catholic church, a marriage is a divine institution and can never be broken, even if the partners are legally divorced. As long as they are both alive, the Church considers them bound together by God and therefore will not marry divorcees, apart from in exceptional circumstances.

Couples organizing humanist wedding ceremonies can choose to part with tradition or fully embrace it. Some brides choose to be walked down the aisle by their fathers, or both parents, or make that walk on their own.

And there is a greater choice in terms of location than there is for civil ceremonies which have to be conducted at premises with licenses. A humanist wedding can be conducted by a celebrant in any 'safe and dignified' location.