Leeds United star Eunan O’Kane and his partner Laura Lacole have been given the go-ahead to have the first Humanist wedding in Northern Ireland’s history.
The ruling by the Court of Appeal follows a legal battle by the Whites midfielder and his partner to hold the non-religious ceremony.
Laura, a model and public speaker, and Eunan have been supported in bringing their case by Humanists UK and its section Northern Ireland Humanists.
A humanist wedding is a non-religious ceremony that is deeply personal and conducted by a humanist celebrant. It differs from a civil wedding in that it is entirely hand-crafted and reflective of the humanist beliefs and values of the couple, conducted by a celebrant who shares their beliefs and values.
Humanist weddings have been legally recognised as marriages in Scotland since 2005 and in Ireland since 2012, but to date couples in Northern Ireland, England, and Wales have been required to have an additional register office ceremony to make their humanist wedding legally binding.
Ms Lacole said: ‘Eunan and I are relieved to now have legal recognition for our humanist ceremony on Thursday. All we’ve been asking for is to be able to get married in a form that reflects our deepest-held beliefs and values. Knowing that this can now happen is an amazing feeling. I’m so happy that we’ve taken such an important step forward.’
Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK, said, ‘We’re over the moon that Laura and Eunan will now be able to have the legal humanist ceremony that they want. The determination with which they took this case forward has been incredible to witness, and the fact that Northern Ireland will now have its first legal humanist ceremony is of historic significance. We very much look forward to celebrating their marriage with them in just a couple of days’ time.’
The wider question as to the future recognition of humanist marriages in Northern Ireland has been stayed until a further Court of Appeal hearing in September. The High Court found on the 9 June that the ban on such marriages having recognition is discriminatory. This decision has not been overturned, but will be subject to the further hearing.
Mr Copson added: ‘It has been extremely frustrating for all of us to see the Northern Ireland Government and Attorney General squander public money to try to stop humanist couples from having the marriages they wish. While there has now been some delay to any decision on the wider principles at stake, we nonetheless very much hope that this appeal is unsuccessful, and the original High Court decision is allowed to stand.’