Belfast Telegraph

Couples set to wed at Northern Ireland's first official humanist ceremonies after courts clear the way

Paul Malone and Emma Taylor, who will wed at Riddel Hall at Queen's University on Saturday
Paul Malone and Emma Taylor, who will wed at Riddel Hall at Queen's University on Saturday
Ronan Johnson and Alanna McCaffrey
Laura Lacole with Eunan O'Kane
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

History will be made in Northern Ireland this weekend when the first two legally-recognised humanist weddings will take place following a landmark Court of Appeal ruling.

On Saturday, Finaghy couple, Emma Taylor and Paul Malone, will marry in the grounds of Queen's University, Belfast.

And on Sunday, Alanna McCaffrey and Ronan Johnson will tie the knot in Co Fermanagh.

In June, the Court of Appeal in Belfast ruled that humanist marriages must be legally recognised in Northern Ireland following a case taken by model, Laura Lacole, and Republic of Ireland footballer, Eunan O'Kane.

The couple secured a change in the law for their own marriage at the High Court and were able to have their humanist ceremony in June 2017, but the decision was stayed for all other couples, pending an appeal by the Attorney General John Larkin, Stormont's Department of Finance and the General Register Office.

A further court ruling in June finally opened the way for more couples to have humanist marriages - which are a non-religious ceremony that differ from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the beliefs and values of the couple.

Previously, couples who opted for humanist ceremonies were also legally instructed to have a separate civil registration for their marriage to be officially acknowledged.

For Emma Taylor (30) and Paul Malone (32), however, that will now not be necessary.

"We can't really believe this has happened so quickly," Emma said yesterday.

"Until last Friday, we still had a booking at Belfast City Hall for a civil ceremony. But we're so pleased to have cancelled it and now we're getting exactly the wedding we want."

Riddel Hall at Queen's University, where Paul works in marketing for the accommodations department, will host the couple on their big day.

"We have around 90 guests coming," said commercial buyer, Emma, who is originally from Londonderry.

She added that she always knew a church wedding wasn't for her or her Newry-born fiance.

"We're so looking forward to our family and friends sharing exactly the day we want," she said.

"We met in Norway seven years ago.

"We were both attending an international student festival in Trondheim and I guess we just clicked.

"We've been together ever since. Neither of us were 'church' people. We didn't attend services or go to Mass.

"Since we decided to get married, we've always felt a humanist wedding was perfect for us.

"To be the first couple to have a humanist wedding since the Court of Appeal ruling makes it even more exciting for us."

The couple will not be heading off on honeymoon just yet.

"Paul will be busy with work at the start of the new university term, but we have planned a cruise in December," said Emma.

On Sunday, Fermanagh plays host to the humanist wedding of Alanna McCaffrey and Ronan Johnson.

Ronan said: "We're a non-religious couple and we want a very personalised and meaningful ceremony for our marriage.

"That's why we wanted a humanist one - because you can customise it to suit yourself and we're delighted we will now be legally recognised as a married couple."

Both couples head to their ceremonies with the best wishes of Ms Lacole, who took the initial legal case.

"Hopefully many other couples will now follow them," she said. "Knowing that come this weekend these couples will have a wedding ceremony that reflects precisely who they are as a couple, just as we did, is certainly worth celebrating."

Richy Thompson, director of public affairs and policy at Humanists UK, congratulated the couples involved.

"With this change in the law, England and Wales are the only parts of Britain and Ireland where humanist marriage is not legally recognised," he said.

In the Republic, humanist marriages gained legal recognition in 2012, and by 2016, around 8% of legal marriages were humanist.

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