Last month, a bill was passed through all stages in the Dail here in Ireland that will allow ‘celebrants’ to carry out humanist wedding and funeral ceremonies in Ireland. The Humanist Association of Ireland has been campaigning for this bill to be passed for over a decade and they hope that it will be signed into law by the President before the summer. Before the bill was passed couples that sought a humanist ceremony would have had to combine it with a civil ceremony but now couples can legally be married by humanist ‘celebrants’. Announcing the breakthrough on their website, the HAI said, “This is a major victory for the Humanist Association of Ireland which has been campaigning for this change for the past decade…In addition to wedding and civil partnership ceremonies, Humanist celebrants conduct naming ceremonies to celebrate the arrival of a child into a family. They also conduct funerals that aim to balance the sense of loss with a celebration of a life ended.”
The HAI offers an alternative to the traditional weddings and funerals that we have in Ireland. Traditional ceremonies such as these have conventionally been the concern of the church but now, following the breakthrough by the HAI, people will be able to seek a non-religious ceremony. In an increasingly less religious country, more and more Irish people have opted for a non-religious ceremony, and these ceremonies are looking set to become very popular when the bill is signed into law.
Why opt for a humanist ceremony?
The HAI offers an alternative to the traditional idea of the wedding and the funeral. For those that do not want a religious service but more than a registry office will find the humanist ceremony agreeable. They can be held anywhere, on any day and at any time, contrary to religious and registry services. Ceremonies are easily arranged through the website or by phone and are suited to the needs of the couple. They usually follow a similar pattern but the couple can put their own mark on the ceremony, while the website maintains that, “There are no rights and wrongs – the only real guidelines are that the ceremony should be secular and dignified.”
The Association also offers a fresh alternative to traditional funerals. Humanist funerals are generally held in a crematorium. The Humanist ‘celebration of life’ differs from the traditional religious funeral. The website states that, “At a Humanist funeral we try to balance the sense of loss with a celebration of the life. The celebrant will work with the family to compose a ceremony that is appropriate. Whereas the sense of loss must not be overlooked and must be acknowledged, it should be balanced with taking the opportunity to celebrate the life of the recently-departed loved one.”
The backdrop of this new bill is the shifting scenery in the country. In the 2011 census the number of individuals in Ireland claiming to be non-religious increased by 45%, with almost 270,000 categorizing themselves as non-religious. The figures show a drastic increase in the number of people becoming disillusioned with religion in this country and it also shows the diminishing power of the church. It represents a shift in opinion of the Irish public that, in a relatively short space of time a new law will be passed that gives humanist ‘celebrants’ power to legally marry and also, this week, the group Atheist Ireland will attend an Oireachtas committee for advice on abortion. Representatives of Atheist Ireland were recently invited by the Health Committee to attend the committee meetings, along with several other religious groups.