Marriages celebrated through a non-religious belief ceremony are now outnumbering Christian ones in Scotland as the nation increasingly turns its back on churches.

Official stats reveal that for the first time there were more humanist marriages in Scotland last year than there were Christian marriages of all denominations combined.

Humanist marriages made up 23% of all marriages, while Christian marriages made up 22%, according to the National Records of Scotland data.

The Humanist Society Scotland say it is the first time that the non-religous ceremonies have eclipsed traditional Christian ones in terms of numbers.

The catalyst for this dramatic shift came in 2005 when humanist wedding were made legal on human rights grounds.

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On 18 June 2005 Karen Watts and Martin Reijns made history by being the first Scottish couple to have a humanist wedding, with the marriage conducted at Edinburgh Zoo.


They were the first of 82 couples to be married in such ceremonies that year.

Scotland now categorises non-religious ceremonies conducted by humanist celebrants as having the same "belief" status under the marriage law as Kirk ministers or priests.

Humanists include atheists and agnostics, and those who say they are spiritual but who dislike organised religion.

And since 2005 the demand has gone through the roof.

Two years later the Scottish Attitudes Survey found that more Scots than ever (58%) have described themselves as having no religion at all. When the survey was carried out in 1999, the figure was 40%.

According to NRS figures there are now 5,879 humanist marriages, compared with 5,812 Christian marriages and 1,409 marriages of other religions.

There were also 12,635 civil ceremonies conducted by registrars in 2019.

Humanist Society Scotland chief executive Fraser Sutherland said: "These new official statistics show again how humanist ceremonies have become a mainstay of Scottish public life. The new figures also show that Humanist Society Scotland celebrants have solemnised the biggest percentage share of total weddings we have ever had - showing that more couples are opting for a meaningful humanist ceremony than ever before.

"This is a reflection of the trend we have seen in Scotland where - particularly since the mid 20th century - each generation has become less religiously observant than their parents.

"There are a huge variety of reasons behind this but improved scientific literacy in schools and a reduction in parents bringing children up in a faith are two major factors.

"Indeed I would say the parenting one is the biggest factor as the majority, though not all, of people begin to form their religious beliefs in childhood. This is backed up by research such as the social attitudes survey which show over half the population now consider themselves non-religious with younger age groups most likely to have no religion."

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Humanist and all other atheist/agnostic unions, are not legally recognised in England and Wales – unlike in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

But its has not stopped increasing numbers of couples from opting for humanist marriage ceremonies south of the border.

Such weddings are estimated to have risen by more than 250 per cent in the last 15 years.

And Mr Sutherland said the figures put more pressure on the UK Government to relent and legally recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales.

"The claims there is no demand for such ceremonies are blown out of the water by these new Scottish figures," he said.

The HSS campaigned for years for an amendment to the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 to allow legal humanist wedding ceremonies but in the end it was a decision by the Registrar General for Scotland that allowed the change.

He made the decision after considering Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights on "freedom of thought, conscience and religion", which includes non-religious belief.

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland said: “Church of Scotland weddings are deeply personal and as unique as the couples being married.

“Ministers are called to a community precisely so that they may get to know and live within their local context.

“That means that over time they develop deep relationships with local people who often come to their minister because of friendships than can span generations.

“The minister, who does not personally charge a fee for their service, draws on the strength of those friendships to create with the couple a unique experience tailored just to them and this can include music, format, style, vows and venue amongst other things.

“The Christian God is a God of love who delights in people and a Church of Scotland wedding is an opportunity for a couple to pledge their love before God, among the circle of friends and family who will support their union throughout their lives.

“We would encourage anyone considering marriage to visit their local church and speak with someone about the many options available to them to mark their very special day.”