Long backlog for godless wedding services in Ireland

Tue Jul 23, 2013 9:08am EDT

1 of 4. Newlyweds Brendan Hastings and Suzy Addis are covered in confetti after their humanist wedding ceremony at the Millhouse in the village of Slane, County Meath July 17, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

Related Topics

(Reuters) - Traditionally Catholic Ireland has allowed an atheist group to perform weddings this year for the first time, and the few people certified to celebrate them are overwhelmed by hundreds of couples seeking their services.

Demand for the Humanist Association of Ireland's secular weddings has surged as the moral authority of the once almighty Catholic Church collapsed in recent decades amid sex abuse scandals and Irish society's rapid secularization.

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.

But statistics show 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 January 1. Similar options are also allowed in Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and some U.S. states.


Brendan Hastings, originally from South Africa, and his Irish bride Suzy Addis had Whiteside preside at their recent humanist wedding in Slane, a village north of Dublin.

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.

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 solemnizers - the Irish bureaucratic term for all legally recognized wedding celebrants - living in Dublin, Wicklow, Cork and Galway.


The law says solemnizers cannot work for profit. Whiteside said he usually asks 450 euros per wedding, although it might be more if long distance travel is involved.

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

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

Scotland legalized 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.

(Additional reporting by Cathal MacNaughton in Dublin)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (5)
Redford wrote:
A Godless wedding has a Godless end.

Jul 28, 2013 11:01am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Flifla23 wrote:
You know, this is interesting- in that it’s implying there is such a rush for humanist weddings. There ISN’T- it’s just that so few “solemnizers” as they’re called- exist!

“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.”

See? Not a lot of these guys legally able to do it. This really isn’t a “thing”- it’s just not popular, and the fact that so few people are legally able to perform it, it creates this backlog of sorts. By the way, how many ARE on backlog, honestly? The article says “hundreds” really? Where did they get these numbers?

I’d like to see another article addressing the phony “vows” in weddings of today, replete with strapless/sleeveless wedding gowns. Went to one recently where there was a “soil ceremony” and a “Talking stick” to be passed around.. it was ridiculous. There was no speech about “in sickness or in health.. for richer or for poorer.. to honour and obey..” brides show up in gaudy “bling”: fake diamonds instead of pearls- wearing a veil, yet in a strapless sleeveless gown!

Prospective brides and grooms: We are NOT enamoured of your silly, laughable vows you’ve invented, they are neither original nor poetic. We, your wedding guests, are a captive audience, so we must digest this nonsense with a straight face.

Do something TRULY original: go back to the real, traditional weddings and vows. Now THAT would get our attention!

Jul 28, 2013 11:04am EDT  --  Report as abuse
forteinjeff wrote:
It’s sound like people are being honest with what they do and don’t believe in. Now isn’t that refreshing. Redford: Just because these couples didn’t have a Catholic marriage doesn’t mean they’re not spiritual. Finding something bigger than ourselves is a journey. Joy comes from accepting everyone has their own way of getting there.

Jul 28, 2013 11:25am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.