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Pair tie knot at humanist wedding[1]

Karen Watts and Martin Reijns exchanged their vows at Edinburgh Zoo

Britain's first legally recognised humanist wedding has taken place in Edinburgh, at the city's zoo.

Karen Watts and Martin Reijns were united by a humanist celebrant after it was agreed that previous rules were restrictive and discriminatory.

Rules on the venues in which Scottish couples can marry had been relaxed, but services still had to be carried out by a minister of religion or registrar.

Humanist representatives have demanded the same changes in England and Wales.

Humanists believe that people can live ethical lives without religious beliefs.

Before the changes, anyone choosing a humanist wedding had to have a civil ceremony beforehand to legalise the marriage.

'Neither religious'

Mr Reijns, 27, from the Netherlands, and Ms Watts, 29, from County Clare in Ireland, live in Polwarth, Edinburgh.

Ms Watts, a community development worker, said: "Neither of us are religious and it would have felt hypocritical to get married in a church.

"But at the same time we wanted something more meaningful than the legal civil ceremony."

Two weddings not needed

The decision by the Registrar General for Scotland means 12 registered celebrants of the Humanist Society of Scotland are now authorised to conduct legal marriages.

The secretary of the organisation, Ivan Middleton, was the celebrant who conducted the Edinburgh Zoo wedding.

He said: "For 15 years we have been writing to various Registrars General, our argument being that under European legislation humanists who had a philosophy were being discriminated against by not being able to have legally-binding marriage ceremonies."

Scotland's Registrar General Duncan McNiven said the change put humanists on a par with the heir to the throne, in terms of marriage law.

He said: "UK legislation requires us to interpret the British law, including Scottish marriage legislation, in a way that is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Legislation needed

"The Prince of Wales used that to put beyond doubt the fact that it was okay for him to have a civil marriage and we are using it to put beyond doubt that humanists can legally marry people."

Meanwhile, the British Humanist Association has written to the Lord Chancellor calling for the Scottish ruling to be recognised in England and Wales.

Executive director Hanne Stinson said: "Now that Scottish humanists have won their rights, we are impatient for action."

She said the law in England and Wales was more complex and could probably not be reinterpreted as it had been in Scotland, therefore legislation would be needed.

  1. From BBC.co.uk 18 June 2005