Friday 21 November 2014

I do! But only if it's a humanist wedding...

Demand for secular weddings by the Humanist Association of Ireland is booming

Tom Heneghan

Published 28/07/2013 | 05:00

Bride Suzy Addis with her groom Brendan Hastings at their humanist wedding in Slane, Co Meath
Suzy making her way from her bridal suite to the ceremony
Confetti in the bride's hair
The marriage certificate
Mr Whiteside after the wedding
Solemniser Brian Whiteside conducts the ceremony

Brendan Hastings, originally from South Africa, and his Irish bride Suzy Addis had Brian Whiteside preside at their recent humanist wedding in Slane, Co Meath. Soft modern music accompanied the relaxed ceremony and the main reading was a passage on love from the 1994 novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin.

"Basically, we are both atheists and didn't want a religious ceremony," said Hastings, at 32 a year older than Addis. "Other weddings we have gone to tended to be all about Jesus and we're not into that. We were both raised as Catholics but kind of gave it up."

Whiteside, a retired Dublin businessman, said he began presiding at humanist weddings back when they were simply a symbolic ceremony, rather than the official act.

Now business is booming.

The association also offers strictly secular funerals and naming ceremonies, which have no legal status.

Being the only certified humanist celebrant for the first half of the year, Whiteside was officiating at one or two weddings per week. He was scheduled for about 90 weddings this year and about 50 in 2014.

"It became a sort of second career," he said. "I don't want to make a business out of this, but it means a lot to me."

The recent ruling means the work can now be divided among the other solemnisers – the Irish bureaucratic term for all legally recognised wedding celebrants – living in Dublin, Wicklow, Cork and Galway.

The law says solemnisers cannot work for profit. Whiteside said he usually asked for €450 per wedding, although it might be more if long-distance travel was involved.

"We don't have salaries, so we have to have some kind of income," he said, noting that priests have salaries and use their own churches for weddings.

That price is low compared with other countries. The Dutch Humanist Union sets a base price of €475, while rates in Germany and Austria, where humanist weddings cannot replace the official civil ceremony, go from €650 to more than €1,000.

Scotland legalised humanist ceremonies in 2005 and saw them jump from 100 that year to 2,846 in 2011.

Humanist weddings are now the third most popular choice for Scottish couples after the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church.

Until now, those who did not want a religious wedding could have only civil ceremonies. Outside of the registrar's office, only clergy were permitted to perform weddings.

In 1996, 90pc of Irish weddings were performed by the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland. But by 2010 that had fallen to 69pc.

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

Whiteside, initially the only humanist solemniser certified to legally marry couples, was already booked well into next year when the civil registry office agreed in late June to approve 10 other solemnisers, 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 Oireachtas legalised secular wedding services last December after a 10-year campaign by the Humanist Association. The law came into effect on January 1.

Irish Independent

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