Couples who marry in humanist ceremonies are three times less likely to get divorced compared to those who wed in other types of ceremonies, new data suggests.

Humanist weddings are not legally recognised in England and Wales but have been legal in Scotland since 2005 and are now more common there than Church of Scotland and Roman Catholic ceremonies combined.

As of last year, they are also legally recognised in Northern Ireland. However, couples in England and Wales may choose to legalise their nuptials at a local registry office either before or after their humanist ceremony.

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The figures, which were obtained by the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and released to the BBC via a freedom of information request, reveal there were 5,072 humanist marriages in Scotland between 2017 and 2018.

Meanwhile, there were 3,166 Church of Scotland ceremonies and 1,182 Roman Catholic ceremonies; the most popular type of wedding was a civil ceremony, with 14,702 taking place in that same time period.

The data also shows that those who married in humanist ceremonies were four times less likely to divorce than those who wed in civil ceremonies.

A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony conducted by a humanist celebrant, someone who practices humanism and has been trained to conduct weddings and/or funerals according to the movement’s ideologies.

Humanism is a philosophical movement that describes someone who rejects supernatural ideals with regards to religious faith and is entirely agnostic.

According to Humanists UK, a humanist will also “make ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals” and believes that “human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same”.

There are, however, several meanings for the term, with The Oxford Companion to Philosophy describing humanist ethics as “distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God”.

When humanists marry, they do so without set scripts or rituals, and choose every element, from the vows to the music, to suit their requirements.

Speaking about the new data, Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said: “These figures show what a good start for couples a humanist wedding can be.

“Humanist weddings are deeply personal, with a unique ceremony crafted for each couple by a celebrant that gets to know them well.”

Meanwhile, Harry Benson, research director at the Marriage Foundation, told BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme that there may be “caveats” to the figures.

“It may be that humanists are older or richer than most, either of which would account for their apparently lower divorce rates,” he explained.

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“However, couples with a shared faith or worldview tend to do better, which might well also apply to humanist couples. And as social pressure to marry has reduced, divorce rates have been tumbling across the board as fewer couples ‘slide’ into marriage and more ‘decide’.”

According to a recent poll by YouGov, nearly seven in 10 UK adults would like to see humanist weddings legally recognised in England and Wales.

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