Humanist marriage will not be legalised

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MPs have resisted an attempt to legalise humanist weddings after the attorney general told the Commons it would be "discriminatory".

Labour introduced an amendment to give legal recognition to humanist weddings at report stage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill on 21 May 2013.

Shadow women and equalities minister Kate Green said it would be "a reform that disadvantages no one. It costs the public purse close to zero. In an age of equality it removes an unnecessary injustice based on religion or belief and, as I say, it will strengthen the institution of marriage".

But Attorney General Dominic Grieve objected that such a move would open the way for challenges in the European Court of Human Rights.

He said there was "a serious defect in the amendment" because "the discriminatory nature of the favour it gives to humanists, as opposed to other secular organisations, would have the consequence of making it incompatible with the Convention rights."

Conservative MP Sir Tony Baldry, who represents the Church of England as Second Church Estates Commissioner in the Commons, argued it would make it possible for other groups such as pagans and spiritualists to hold official weddings.

"I had enough problems in my constituency with same-sex marriage," said Sir Tony. "If I go back to the shires of Oxfordshire and tell them that Parliament's now about to endorse in England pagan marriage they'll think that we'll have lost the plot completely."

Labour's amendment did find some support on the Lib Dem and Conservative benches.

Lib Dem MP Ian Swales called it "extraordinary" that "anyone of faith should oppose anyone of faith having such a ceremony" and former Justice minister Crispin Blunt found it "glaringly obvious that humanists ought to be able to conduct marriage ceremonies".

Winding up for the government, Women and Equalities Minister Maria Miller cautioned against "shoehorning" a new definition of marriage into a bill designed to address the situation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender couples.

Labour later withdrew the amendment without a vote.

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