Thursday, 6 June 2019

Religious Marriages Plummet As UK Rejects Religion

Marriages in England and Wales - Office for National Statistics

Figures for 2016, released by the UK Office for National statistics a few days ago, show rapidly changing attitudes to marriages and especially to religious marriages in England and Wales. Religion is becoming detached from the institution of marriage and playing little or no part in relationships between adults now. Marriage is quite simply not a religious institution in England and Wales anymore.

The main points were:

  1. In 2016, there were 249,793 marriages in England and Wales, 1.7% more than in 2015, but 1.0% fewer than in 2014.
  2. 97.2% of all marriages were between opposite-sex couples and 2.8% were between same-sex couples.
  3. There were 7,019 marriages between same-sex couples in 2016, an increase of 8.1% from 2015; of these marriages, 55.7% were between female couples.
  4. Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2016 were lower at all ages compared with 2006, except for men aged 60 years and over and women aged 50 years and over.
  5. For the first time ever, less than one-quarter (24%) of all marriages in 2016 were religious ceremonies.
  6. 30 July was the most popular day to get married in 2016, with 4,742 marriages on this day.

Not only are same-sex marriages increasing but marriages between opposite-sex couples are declining in absolute numbers against an increasing population as more couples opt for cohabitation. The only increase was for men aged 60 and over and for women aged 50 and over, for whom a large proportion would have been second or subsequent marriages. There are also financial incentives to get married before retirement in terms of the spouse having an entitlement to a portion of his or her partners' pension on their demise.

Perhaps the most significant statistics are those showing the long-term decline in the overall marriages rates per 1,000 head of unmarried population ages 16 and over, and those showing the huge shift away from religious marriages towards civil marriage. If current trends are maintained, religious marriages will be be a thing of the past by 2030.

The marriage rate, which peaked at above 84% for men and 63.5% for women in 1972 as those born in the post-war baby boom reached their early to mid-twenties, has been in sharp decline ever since. It now stands at just over 20% for both sexes. Religious marriages, which stood at 66.8% of all marriages in 1966 now comprise just 24% of all marriages. People are now opting for civil marriages over religious marriages by a 3:1 majority.

From personal experience, very many 'church' weddings are held for romantic rather than religious reasons, churches generally making a traditional (and cheaper) setting for weddings than many other non-register office settings for civil weddings. The actual number of couples who marry in Anglican churches for purely religious reasons will be generally very low.

But what is missing from these statistics for England and Wales are Humanist marriages. These are still not legally recognised in England and Wales, unlike in Scotland and Northern Ireland where they are now legal. Humanists may hold a marriage ceremony but the couple still need to go through a civil marriage for it to be legally recognised. A Humanist celebrant is not legally authorised to conduct a marriage in England and Wales, although he or she can do so in Scotland or Northern Ireland!

Despite the requirement for a second 'legal' civil ceremony, Humanist weddings have increased by a massive 266% over the last 15 years while religious marriages between 2004 to 2016 fell by 28% for Anglicans, 34% for Catholics and 42% for Baptists.

Humanists UK Chief Executive Andrew Copson said:

The fact that people are seeking to start their married life on a firm foundation of shared values and meaningful public commitment says great things about our society and it is bewildering that the Government continues to resist giving legal recognition. Thousands of couples remain either legally unmarried or have to go through the expensive irrelevance of a register office in addition to what they see as their ‘real’ wedding.

Parliament gave the Justice Secretary the power to give legal recognition to humanist marriages five years ago and a public consultation showed that over 90% of people wanted it done. David Gauke should get on and do it. If he does, he will be enhancing the personal happiness of thousands of couples and improving society in a way that few politicians ever get the chance to do.

Humanist UK is urging people to support their campaign for Humanist marriages to be recognised throughout the whole of the UK by writing to their MP demanding action.

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