Humanist weddings are growing in popularity despite not being legally binding in every part of the UK, according to new statistics.
The number of humanist wedding ceremonies recorded by the Office for National Statistics in England and Wales rose by 266 percent during a 12-year period – from 287 in 2004 to 1,051 in 2016, The Observer reports.
Humanist wedding ceremonies are non-religious and "as unique as the couples they celebrate", the charity Humanist UK notes on its website.
They're conducted by a celebrant rather than a registrar or vicar, and the vows are tailor-made to the couple.
They've been legally binding in Scotland since 2005 and in Northern Ireland since last year following a landmark ruling by the Belfast Court of Appeal.
Alanna McCaffrey and Ronan Johnson, who were among the first couples in Northern Ireland to have a humanist wedding ceremony, said at the time: "We’re a non-religious couple and we want a very personalised and meaningful ceremony for our marriage. That’s why we want a humanist one – because you can customise it to suit yourself. It seemed the most meaningful option for us, and we’re delighted that such ceremonies will now be legally recognised."
However, they have no such legally binding status in England and Wales, meaning that couples who want to have a humanist wedding and a legally binding marriage essentially have to hold – and pay for – two ceremonies.
Humanist UK’s chief executive, Andrew Copson, told The Observer that "the scale of the demand for [humanist] weddings, especially in the last 15 years, has blown us away".
He added: "In a way it is a demonstration of what we know about today’s society – many people are humanist in their approach to life without knowing the word. They’re not religious but they want a ceremony at one of the most important moments in their lives that reflects the positive beliefs and values they hold."
Humanist celebrants also conduct naming ceremonies, a non-religious alternative to the Christening, and humanist funerals.