Belfast Telegraph

Landmark ruling means humanist wedding is legal

By Alan Erwin

A court ruling granting an international footballer and his model fiancee legal recognition of their looming humanist wedding is set to be appealed.

Glamour model Laura Lacole and Leeds and Republic of Ireland star Eunan O'Kane mounted a successful challenge against the authorities in Northern Ireland for refusing to recognise their June 22 ceremony in law.

But Friday's decision in Belfast High Court is now to be appealed by Northern Ireland's Attorney General John Larkin QC.

Ms Lacole and Mr O'Kane launched the legal bid after learning their planned humanist wedding in Ballymena's luxury Galgorm Resort would not be recognised in law.

For such recognition, they were told, they would need to have a separate civil ceremony.

The couple took the case against the General Register Office for Northern Ireland and Stormont's Department of Finance.

Mr Larkin also participated in the hearing because it touched on devolved Stormont legislation.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, which is supporting the couple's case, said his clients were disappointed by the appeal.

"This is a very disappointing development given the comprehensive nature of the judgment and is deeply upsetting for both Laura and Eunan, who were so happy to have had certainty in relation to their wedding later this month," he said.

Earlier in the High Court, a judge ruled yesterday that Ms Lacole's beliefs had been unlawfully denied equal treatment with religious couples.

Mr Justice Colton ordered the granting of temporary authorisation for a British Humanist Association (BHA) celebrant to perform a legally valid and binding wedding at a location in Northern Ireland on June 22.

Ms Lacole had been jubilant at the verdict. Fighting back tears of joy outside court, the 27-year-old said: "It's amazing now that we are being recognised, it's not just a privilege applied to religions."

Ms Lacole immediately phoned her fiance, at his Republic of Ireland training camp, to break the news to him.

However, Mr Larkin's intervention meant her joy was short-lived.

Under current law a couple who want a humanist ceremony must also have a separate civil registration for their marriage to be officially acknowledged. The same situation applies in England and Wales, but not in Scotland or the Irish Republic.

Ms Lacole, who is vice-chair of Atheist NI, claimed she was being discriminated against, citing the section of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) legislation which protects freedom of belief.

She issued judicial review proceedings against the General Register Office (GRO) for refusing to authorise the wedding due to be conducted by Isobel Russo, head of ceremonies at the BHA.

Her action was also directed at the Department of Finance's alleged failure to introduce legislation to allow a legally binding wedding event.

Counsel for the model argued that she and her fiance wanted the same "legal blessing" afforded under Northern Ireland law to all religious groups from Pagans to Free Presbyterians. Without official authorisation, the humanist ceremony would be legally meaningless, he contended.

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