Visit the zoo, climb a mountain, board a boat - they are all preludes to the most rapidly growing form of marriage in Scotland over the past two years.

Humanist weddings, requiring faith only in each other, and perhaps the weather, will become second only to civil marriages in popularity within five years of being made legal, the Humanist Society of Scotland claimed yesterday.

Licensed celebrants performed 675 humanist marriages in 2007, an increase of 59% over the previous year.

First sanctioned by the Registrar General in June 2005, the numbers had risen to 425 in 2006.

The society now claims fifth ranking in the types of weddings registered in Scotland.

Last year, civil marriages accounted about 15,000 of the 30,000 total, followed by Church of Scotland (8000), Roman Catholic (more than 2000) and other religions (collectively around 5000).

A spokesman for the society said yesterday: "We already have 525 wedding ceremonies booked for 2008.

"Our weddings can be conducted anywhere deemed to be safe and dignified' and, unlike civil weddings, a venue does not need a wedding licence."

The Registrar General granted 12 humanist celebrants legal status in June 2005 and they carried out 83 ceremonies that year. In 2006, 30 celebrants conducted 425 legal weddings. The Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) now has 42 legal wedding celebrants and expects this to increase with the popularity of its weddings. However, mainstream churches last night warned against extrapolating too boldly from a base of zero.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, said: "If you apply the same technique to other trends, then in 10 years no-one will vote in elections or go to church.

"I don't think either is going to happen. Christian marriages are currently well ahead of humanist ceremonies and in reality are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future."

Pat Holgate, spokeswoman for the Church of Scotland, said: "We still consider there is something beautiful and profound about two people wanting to commit to each other in the sight of God and we believe they will continue to want to do so."

Gordon Ross, HSS celebrant co-ordinator said: "Although we always knew there would be a demand for legal humanist weddings in Scotland, these figures greatly exceed our expectations. We have a unique offering in that we give couples the opportunity to have a personal, meaningful ceremony without religion in a venue of their choosing."

Couples are free to make all the important choices about location, readings, music and the wording of their promises to each other.

The HSS describes humanism as a secular, ethical life stance, and that humanists believe they can live worthwhile lives guided by reason and compassion rather than religion or superstition.

"Although many people choose to reject religion they still view the institution of marriage as an important celebration of their commitment to another person," said Mr Ross.

"Most couples come to us because they feel it would be hypocritical to get married in the eyes of a religion they don't accept, but want a ceremony that is more personal and thoughtful than a civil one, where you are married in the eyes of the state."

The day was everything they had hoped for

WHEN David and Kathryn Burt married at Brig O' Doon House in Alloway, Ayrshire, on October 27 they opted for a humanist ceremony with celebrant Alistair Douglas.

The Burts, both 26, who live in the west end of Glasgow, met as students in 1999 and chose a humanist wedding because they were not religious. "We did not like the idea of a civil ceremony, because it is not very personal," David, a highways engineer, said. For him and Kathryn, a clinical trials co-ordinator, the event was everything they hoped for.

"The day passed all too quickly. We had about 100 guests, including those with religious faith, but no-one had any reservations about attending a humanist wedding. They had chosen religious marriages but they thought ours was very personal and could see why people might want a humanist ceremony."