And what God hath not joined together, a man may put asunder
I was born in a society that believes marriage is an essential part of adulthood. Those who want to build a family must get married beforehand. I was also raised Catholic and, I never questioned the importance of marriage and the need for God’s blessing to it. Most of my life I was certain I had to tick all the boxes in order to be a really accomplished woman but
as I grew older, I started doubting that culture.
Humans are social creatures and have the need to be together. Marriage came about in order to join two people as one, but it was not at first about love or commitment nor about religion, as I was taught. In fact, the concept has changed a lot over the years.
Marriages have come a long way since the Ancient Mesopotamian civilization. According to Week Magazine, the very first documented evidence of nuptial services that unite a woman and a man, dates from around 2350 BC, in Mesopotamia.
In Europe, it had nothing to do with love. As Lauren Everitt, from BBC News Magazine explains, it was in the 12th century when it got included in the Roman Catholic Church as a sacrament. Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage also explains that people saw marriage as strategic means to create diplomatic and commercial bonds and it was only in the 18th century that love became the main reason to do it.
Even though today getting married does not mean the same to everybody, there is something about it that seems attractive. Being married flashes up all sort of messages- devotion, respect, loyalty, duty. It may mean companionship, financial security, legal status, stability, recognition, and, it inspires commitment to certain values.
Marriage is usually seen as a legal institution or as a holy sacrament.
However, there is a group of people that do not want to tie their ideals into a religious setting and do not appreciate the coldness of the legal system.
Here comes humanism
What exactly is humanism? The Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI) defines it as “a view of life that combines reason with compassion. It is based on a concern for humanity in general” and it is for people that do not believe in the supernatural or God but trust in scientific evidence. Siobhán Walls, a celebrant from the HAI, explains that humanism is not a religion but “a belief system”.
Brian Whiteside, director of ceremonies for HAI clarifies that it “places human life at the centre. A lot of our values are the same as Christianity, but we just don’t buy into the notion of a supreme being.”
A decrease in faith
Anyone who has spent some time in Ireland over the last decade will know that the number of people following religion has fallen dramatically.
From 2012 non-religious ceremonies have the same legal status as church-based and civil marriages in the Republic, and couples choosing this trend are increasing.
Even though religious services still account for the majority of ceremonies on the island, according to CSO numbers, humanist weddings have seen a growth in the past few years.
In 2016, according to the same source, 1,534 couples had Humanist ceremonies, and this increased to 1,727 couples in 2017. On the other hand, the statistics show there were 12,140 Catholic marriage ceremonies in 2016, while there were 11,219 in 2017, which suggests a decrease.
“Religious commitment and practice in Ireland is in decline
To this regard, celebrant Siobhán Walls says, the increase in humanist weddings does suggest a decrease in faith, also, “part of the increase in demand is among a cohort of people who want a personal ceremony that is about them, and not about the church or God”, she remarks.
I asked the same question to Gordon Linney, Archdeacon of the Church of Ireland. While he couldn’t know for certain if an increase in humanist weddings suggests a decrease in faith, it does seem likely to him. “It is clear from census returns and other reports that religious commitment and practice in Ireland is in decline,” he agrees. However, Archdeacon Linney attributes this “trend” to many different reasons.
In his opinion, there is a general disconnect between people and all institutions, like political parties, religious organisations and social bodies.
Every year in Ireland there are about 21 thousand marriages, and to the world, each of those marriages represents evidence of the sovereignty of love, evidence of thirst and hunger for commitment, and a proof of the conformity with old-style family structures.
In the last few years, Ireland has turned its conservativism; from the same-sex civil partnerships in 2011, to the amendment to the Civil Registration Bill in 2013, to the same-sex marriage referendum in 2015, weddings with a twist are becoming more popular.