Humanist marriage – It might be a niche issue but in fairness to all it’s important to understand the arguments that are framing the debate

Six couples are taking a human rights case to the High Court this week in a bid to secure legal recognition for marriages conducted by humanist celebrants in England and Wales. Here Kate Tym, part of the award winning Hastings based Independent Celebrant team of Kate and Kate Celebrants argues that ALL celebrants; humanist and independent should be treated equally.

You may have seen the BBC News reports in the last few days about the High Court Challenge in respect of humanist weddings.

There’s an ongoing Law Commission Review going on that’s taking a full and rounded view of ALL celebrants in connection with their work and the current laws that govern what they can and cannot do. I’m going to try to explain what the difference is between Humanist Celebrants and Independent Celebrants and why it even matters.

So, are you a Humanist, then….?

At Kate and Kate we would like all celebrants to have the same legal rights when it comes to marrying people – not just those that are signed-up Humanists.

We get that this is a niche issue… so to help you see why it gets our goat, here’s a wee insight into the difference between Humanist and Independent Celebrants.

You’ve probably already gathered that Kate Dyer and I are not Humanist Celebrants… we are Independent Celebrants and to help you wrap your head around that, I’ll do a bit of explaining. 

Please bear in mind I can’t speak for all Humanist Celebrants here, only from our own experience with some of them and from our own practise.

What is a Humanist Celebrant?

A Humanist Celebrant is someone who has trained with the They will have completed a specific learning programme that is tailored to reflect the beliefs of Humanism and, in theory, they will create and conduct their ceremonies according to those standards and beliefs.

It is common, however, for all Celebrants to be referred to as ‘Humanist’ and that’s probably because when Celebrants first became ‘a thing’ the Humanists were the most well-known organisation to train and advertise as an alternative to a religious ceremony. At Kate and Kate we’re often asked by wedding, funeral or baby naming guests ‘So, you’re a Humanist then…’ Meaning, ‘So, you’re a celebrant then….’  A bit like ‘Hoover’ has become the generic term for Vacuum Cleaner… and, like those appliances, we do our best to suck it up! 

What is a Humanist?

Humanists are people of a secular persuasion who, in the organisation’s own words: “…shape their own lives in the here and now, because we believe it’s the only life we have. We make sense of the world through logic, reason, and evidence, and always seek to treat those around us with warmth, understanding, and respect.”

There is a lot more to Humanism than simply a lack of religion, it is a belief system with its own morals, ethics and pastoral elements. It is a belief system with a strong moral compass and ethical backbone. We would, in fact, encourage you to visit their website if you’d like to find out more. We think the Humanist way of thinking and being is pretty fabulous…. It’s just not for us!

It’s not that we disagree with Humanism… we clearly don’t – in fact a lot of what those lovely Humanists believe marries nicely with what we believe too. However, we didn’t want to sign up to any sort of doctrinal belief – we don’t want to be anything-ist… We didn’t train with Humanist UK so we have no claim to the title and nor do we want it as it would be disingenuous of us to portray ourselves as something we’re not. 

Kate Tim and Kate Dyer are INDEPENDENT celebrants.

Some celebrants cannot square their personal beliefs with the Humanist doctrine because, while not being religious per-se, they do have a sense of spirituality or a belief in a ‘higher power’ be that through nature or some other realm.

Neither Kate Dyer nor I claim to have a take on spirituality – although Kate D does claim to have some sort of sixth-sense witchy twitch about things – I am highly sceptical! But our lack of spirituality doesn’t mean we want to become card-carrying Humanists, either. Because just as we don’t want to be defined by a belief system… we don’t want to be defined by our lack of belief either because, at the end of the day, it is NOT ABOUT US!

We are all about creating ceremonies for anyone and everyone and attempting to facilitate how they feel and what they believe.

As independent celebrants we are able to work with couples and families without bringing any of our own beliefs to the table. If you want a Buddhist chant, knock yourself out; if The Lord’s Prayer is important to you when saying goodbye to someone you love, we are more than happy to share that. We want to be able to embrace and reflect all the wide and varied levels of human experience that are brought to our door. And this is where the fundamental difference lies.

Humanist Celebrants may be unwilling to perform certain acts or reference ideas/concepts that are seen to be part of or embody any sense of spirituality. This contravenes their personal beliefs and the beliefs of Humanists UK – their training body. To do so will likely be uncomfortable or impossible for them. Instead they may ask you to invite a friend or family member to take on these particular roles or words, if you choose to include them.

An Independent is more likely to fully commit themselves to the embodying your view of what your ceremony should contain as they have no external restrictions of belief or policy. 

That said, it’s horses for courses…. If you want a full-blown pagan ceremony we’re probably not the celebrants for you, if your Jewish beliefs are the driving force behind your marriage – call the Rabbi, if the Humanist philosophy is what floats your boat – go for it! 

We really do think for every Jilly there’s a Johnny, for every pot there’s a lid, and every couple should be able to be LEGALLY married by the celebrant that suits them. 

Kate Tim in action, doing the job she loves.

So, we hope that’s helped with the Hoover/vacuum cleaner Humanist/ Independent Celebrant conundrum. At the end of the day, there are officiants and celebrants of every hue out there… so take your time, do your research and find the one that’s right for you, especially if they’re called Kate!

Currently, you’ll have to do your legal bits separately to your ceremony but, as the couples we’ve wed will testify, it really is worth it for the level of personal input you’ll gain. 

With weddings pretty much on hold due to Covid-19 we really do hope this provides the space for the Government to think clearly on this matter and get the legislation right.

I’ve written to my MP, Sally-Ann Hart and Kate Dyer has written to Huw Merriman, on this matter. There are more than a thousand civil ot ‘non-humanist’ celebrants working in England and Wales, designing and delivering the ceremonial aspects of a wedding, following the legal registration of the marriage by couples at their local register office.  The line between what we and humanist celebrants provide to a couple is indistinguishable in 90 per cent of cases. 

Most civil celebrants are self-employed, and have seen their businesses crash to the floor post lockdown.  Many have no recourse to the government funding available. They have been hanging on to the prospect that next year, when couples who have cancelled their 2020 weddings rebook for 2021 they will once again be earning an income. I do not think those hopes should be dashed by being excluded from any legal reform that is skewed towards humanist celebrants.

The Law Commission Review is currently at pre-consultation stage and due to report in September, with the aim of people being able to have a wedding that is meaningful to them.  It must be allowed to complete its review.  In the meantime let’s look forward to next summer when love can finally be back in the air and, whichever way you wed, we’re sure it will be wonderful.

For more information on celebrant-led ceremonies go to

Main photo: Kate and Kate winning Funeral Celebrants of the Year at The Association of Green Funeral Directors, Good Funeral Awards 2019.

One thought on “Humanist marriage – It might be a niche issue but in fairness to all it’s important to understand the arguments that are framing the debate

  1. My name’s Felicity Harvest, and I AM a Humanists UK accredited celebrant. As such I think I’m better able to talk about what Humanist celebrants feel and believe than Kate and Kate are. Yes, they’re successful celebrants, and I respect that, but how they can say things like “[humanists] while not being religious per-se, they do have a sense of spirituality or a belief in a ‘higher power’ be that through nature or some other realm.’ is beyond me. Sorry Kate and Kate, no, that’s not what we believe. We believe that people are good, that community is important, and that altruism is a driving force in the world. Therefore we put people at the centre of our ceremonies. The current fight for the legalisation of Humanist marriage is based on the fact that Humanism is a recognised belief system, and therefore people not being able to legally marry according to those beliefs is an infringement of their human rights. If Hastings in Focus would like to hear more about humanism from humanists, I an my fellow local humanist celebrants would be happy to supply some copy.

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