Marriage laws still discriminate for religions over humanists, and for humanists over atheists

In the marriage figures issued by the CSO the Humanist Association of Ireland solemnised 9.3% of all marriages in 2022. Since the introduction of the Civil Registration Amendment Act in 2012, the Humanist Association have been permitted to legally solemnise marriages. That has come at significant cost to them, because in order to comply with the Act they were required to give up political campaigning.

A decade ago, the majority of members in the Humanist Association decided at a special meeting to accept this religious discrimination, and therefore had to give up political campaigning, in order to solemnise marriages. They cannot even campaign against the Act because that would be engaging in political campaigning.

Atheist Ireland is not a Charity, because charities can promote religion but not atheism. Nor do we solemnise marriages, because to do so would restrict our ability to campaign politically. We intend to step up our campaign to lobby to remove the religous discrimination in the Charities Act and also the Civil Registration Amendment Act.

Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012

The Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012 is the most overtly discriminatory law that has been passed in Ireland since Atheist Ireland was founded. For arbitrary reasons, it applies different legal standards for religious and secular groups who can solemnise marriages and also between secular groups.

Among these different legal standards are that a secular group that solemnises marriages must be a charity, must be established for five years, must have a minimum number of members, must be ethical, and may not promote a political cause. The Humanist Association of Ireland cannot legally promote a political cause. They are forbidden from doing so by the Civil Registration Amendment Act.

The requirement of the HAI to be an ethical organisation when religous bodies are not required to be ethical is outrageous given the history of some religoius bodies in this country. This means that a registered religous solemniser could be convicted of a criminal offence and still solemnise marriages because they are not required to be ethical under the Act.

In essence religious bodies can solemnise marriages without restrictions. They are not required to be Charities, they can promote a political cause and they are not required to be ethical. That is direct religious discrimination.

This religious discrimination in a hard pill to swallow for some members of the HAI and hasn’t got any easier over the years. They could always give up solemnising marriages and go back to their roots of political campaigning and just doing humanist weddings and other cermonies.

Charities Act

It is not only the Civil Registration Amendment Act that restricts the HAI from promoting a political cause, but also the Charities Act. In order for the HAI to solemnise marriages they are required legally to be a registered Charity. There is a category of ‘religion’ under the Charities Act but the HAI do not come under that category because it doesn’t apply to beliefs.

The HAI are registered under the Charities Act in the category of ‘education’. Therefore their purpose as a charity is to promote ‘education’ about humanism. Under the Act all their income must go towards the purpose for which they are registered, and the HAI are registered to promote education about humanism. This also restricts them from campaigning politically on any issue other than education about humanism.

Under the Charities Act religious charities can campaign politically to change law and policy to reflect their religious beliefs. However, the HAI are legally confined under the Act to political campaigning on ‘education about humanism’.

Standards in Public Office

One of the reasons why Atheist Ireland is not a registered charity is that nearly everything we do is political. We would be confined in our political campaigning if we could only legally campaign under the Charities Act on ‘education about atheism’. If we decided to become a registered charity in order to seek to solemnise marriages we would not be able to do the political campaigning that we do at the moment.

Because we campaign politically, we are registered with the Standards in Public Office, and must give an account to them of any funding that we receive for political campaigning.

There is also religious discrimination in the rules surrounding political donations, because religious bodies can receive unrestricted amounts from overseas and we cannot. We do not agree with any organisation receiving unrestricted funding from overseas for changing law and policy in Ireland.

Atheist Ireland intends to step up our campaign to lobby for a change in the Charities Act and also the Civil Registration Amendment Act. If you would like to assist us you can join Atheist Ireland here.

Atheist Ireland