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HAI’s EGM on 26 June 2013 – discussed at Mid West Humanists meeting 19 June 2013

The Mid West Humanists meeting on Wednesday 19 June 2013 discussed the forthcoming

Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI)

which is to be on

Wednesday 26 June 2013 at 19:00 in

Gandon Suite

O’Callaghan Davenport Hotel

Merrion Square

Dublin 2.

This meeting will be open only to members of the HAI.

The EGM is to do with HAI Celebrants being made State legal Solemnisers of marriages, and how that might inhibit the HAI from campaigning for political changes moving towards a secular society.

The HAI (founded 1993) has about 500 members in the Republic of Ireland and it enables humanists to meet and support each other, campaigns for state institutions to be secular (particularly including schools being fair to children with religion and without religion), and accredits celebrants so that people can have marriages, funerals, and naming their babies without any religious content to the ceremonies; and has further related aims and activities.

The HAI is a company limited by guarantee and so is subject to the Companies Acts.

The HAI has aims generally similar to the Mid West Humanists (MWH). The MWH benefit from the HAI giving notice about our meetings in their 2-monthly magazine, and a link on their website, and on occasion the HAI have sent someone to speak to the MWH. While there are not very close links between the two, people who attend the MWH know that there is a national humanist organisation that will help with major issues. The MWH website has links both to the HAI generally and to their Celebrants.

At the meeting on 19 June 2013 exactly half the attenders were members of HAI and the other half were not. Because HAI is a national organisation and because many new attenders at MWH meetings and new visitors to the website ask about humanist ceremonies (particularly marriages), even though less than half our attenders generally are members of HAI, the problems to be discussed at their Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) are of substantial interest to most Mid West humanists.

Problems leading to the EGM

Andrew Devine-Rattigan who is a member of HAI asked all HAI members to support a call for this EGM in April 2013, and at least 10% of members agreed, and that is sufficient to make the EGM happen.

Andrew wrote about the following problem.

The HAI began to provide celebrants to do funerals from when it began in 1993. They soon after began to accredit celebrants to do weddings, funerals, and ceremonies to name a baby. Becoming accredited is by being apprenticed to an accredited celebrant. After performing sufficient cermonies to a sufficent standard the HAI Board of Directors would accredit the celebrant. The agreement on being accredited includes that the celebrant pays a fixed fee to the HAI for each ceremony they do.

Only the marriage ceremony could have any legal implication. The State has its own Registrars who perform legal marriages, and the State appoints people nominated by religious bodies as Solemnisers of marriages. The latest Act providing for these is the Civil Registration Act 2004.

The HAI marriage ceremonies were what the two people marrying wanted, that is, no religious content, and the two people could have the details of the ceremony as they wanted. However, to be legally married, they would have to also go the Registrar at the Registry Office.

The HAI had campaigned to the Government in 2003 that the Act which was to be passed soon would include making the Humanist Celebrants legal Solemnisers of marriage in the same way as religious ministers. This would enable the humanist marriage ceremony to include the legal making of the marriage, so the two people would not have to also go to the Registry Office.

The 2004 Act did not provide this. Since then the HAI has kept its aim of the State including the HAI celebrants as legal Solemnisers of marriages.

In 2011 there began some discussions between the HAI and government over an Amending Act to provide for non-religious celebrants to be State approved Solemnisers of marriage. The resulting Bill, which became an Act at the end of 2012, Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012, defines a “Secular Body” and provides how people that such a body nominates can become legal Solemnisers of marriages.

The HAI were very pleased that this had happenned, and if all aspects of the new Act were satisfactory, this would be reasonable.

Andrew Devine-Rattigan wrote to HAI members in April 2013 that among the exclusion criteria for the new Secular Body was that such a body could not promote a political cause. Andrew wrote that in connected communications the HAI board told him that the HAI does not promote a political cause though it does promote a social cause.

The problem is (or, may be) that by having its celebrants become legal Solemnisers of marriages the HAI would stop being able to campaign to the government or to any connected organisations to have the State or how it operates become more secular. The HAI board has claimed that it will not inhibit it in this way, but even if the State authorities never calls the HAI to task on this, the HAI may end up acting inhibited about pressing strongly to the State on any of the major issues – a secular constitution, schools not to be in the control of religious organisations, ending prayers at public functions, removing the anti-blasphemy law.

Andrew asked HAI members to take the opposite course, that is, that the HAI would continue to campaign to the State for secular constitution, laws, and administration (regularly, and whenever particular occasions would arise) – and the HAI would not try to have its celebrants be made legal Solemnisers of marriages.

The EGM has to consider 2 motions that would direct the HAI to cease appointing legal marriage Solemnisers and reiterate the HAI’s commitment to campaigning for secular values. There are 2 further motions on how the HAI regulates its celebrants. There is 1 motion to appoint 2 extra Directors to the Board of the HAI.

If the HAI did not try to have legal Solemnisers, it would be free to campaign on political matters, including campaigning to have the exclusion clause (about a political cause) removed from the Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012.

The Charities Act includes an exclusion clause on this subject, but the exclusion criterion for a charity is that such a body cannot promote a political cause other than a political cause that is part of the charitable organisation’s aims.

The HAI’s EGM on Wednesday 26 June 2013 is very important for many humanists and not solely for those who are members of the HAI.

For those attenders of the Mid West Humanist meetings and those visitors to MWH website who are members of the Humanist Association of Ireland, this notice is to emphasise the great importance of attending the EGM and giving your vote there.


3 Responses

  1. The Civil Registration Amendment Act 2012 requires a Secular Body to not promote a political cause. If the HAI kept to this, it could not campaign to the State – for example, for society and state institutions to be secular. There is a new post on this subject today.

  2. From what I understand the variuos Churches simply send the names of their officials to the registrar and are listed then as ‘solemnisers’ within that group. CofI clergy cn officate at CofI venues, Catholics at Catholic ones, registrars in registry offices etc. Why would you advocate in one comment that it was time for the Churches to desist from acting as functionaries of the State yet wonder in another part why clergy are not allowed to officiate at State (registry office) weddings? Also, if a Catholic wishes to marry why should the catholic church ceremony not suffice? I would see it that the state recognises and records religious marriages as valid marriages and gives them legal respect. The State does not recognoise ecclesiastic anulments and divorces and only enforces civil divorces processed through the courts. Just because they do things differently on the continent it doesn’t mean that the double wedding is a good idea. If you want to marry somebody surely you only want to do it once? The French and others’ traditions of two ceremonies belittles the actual event that the two parties are celebrating.What might prove interesting is whether the State will recognise the same-sex ‘marriages’ performed by (I think) the Unitarian Church and other religious or philosophical disciplines?

  3. The HAI applied on behalf of its celebrants to the General Register Office under the heading of a ‘secular body’. The Amendment Act added ‘secular body’ – representatives of religions and HSE registrars could already solemnise marriages. HAI celebrants have been providing non-legal Humanist marriage ceremonies for 20 years now and their appointment as solemnisers clears the way for couples who want legal Humanist ceremonies to have this choice for the first time in Ireland.

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