British Columbia

B.C. Humanist Association seeking right to perform marriages

The B.C. Humanist Association is circulating a petition requesting the Minister of Health legalize Humanist marriages in the province.

Petition launched asking the Minister of Health to broaden the definition of marriage

Ian Bushfield is pictured performed a wedding ceremony, before it is signed off on by a marriage commissioner. (Julie Doro)

The BC Humanist Association is circulating a petition requesting the Minister of Health legalize Humanist marriages in the province. 

"Humanism is basically a positive, non-religious world view, so we're essentially atheists with an ethical system that's based on human reason, human compassion, and we try to be good without God," said Ian Bushfield, Executive Director of the organization.

"What we're trying to do is offer a ceremony that's based on our world view and our values, just in the same way that the Catholic Church can do that, the Muslim community can do, that the Scientologists apparently can do," he said.

Ian Bushfield says the Vital Statistics Agency is being hypocritical not letting them officiate marriages, when they allow Wicans and Buddhists to do so. (Ian Bushfield)

Bushfield said the Vital Statistics Agency, the provincial agency which authorizes people to solemnize marriages, denied their application to be recognized as a religious body in 2013.

Broadening the definition of marriage

Now the group is pursuing a change to the Marriage Act itself, asking Health Minister Adrian Dix to broaden the definition of marriage, so the Vital Statistics Agency can permit them to perform marriage ceremonies.

"We're hoping to just get this cleared up with a standardized definition that can be more inclusive," said Bushfield.

Bushfield said Humanists can perform marriages in Ontario, Scotland, New Zealand, and Australia. 

According to the Ontario government, 94 Humanist officiants are recognized as religious officials authorized to perform marriages in the province.

Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to the group's petition on Thursday, saying it's something that the government will consider, but they won't look into changing the Marriage Act at this time. 

"As legislative change inevitably takes a long while … we certainly don't have a plan to do that right now," Dix said. "If there's an intention to reform the Marriage Act, we're going to obviously consult with lots of groups from faith communities, from secular communities, from everywhere else."

Restrictions on marriage commissioners

In the meantime, Dix said representatives from the group can apply to be marriage commissioners, which won't require them to be defined as a religious organization. 

"Marriage commissioners are lovely people, and they'll generally work with a couple to try to make something work for them, but it's still not necessarily someone who comes from the same philosophical world view," said Bushfield.

On their website, the BC Humanist Association cites several issues with the limitations imposed on marriage commissioners.

According to the Government of B.C., marriage commissioners must live in the community where they perform marriage ceremonies, cannot provide wedding planning or consultation, and are limited to a 10-year term, among other restrictions.  

There are currently no vacancies for marriage commissioners in the province. 

Bushfield says the Humanist Association, which has 150 members and 1500 people on their contact list, wants to grow and give people the option of having a meaningful ceremony catered to their beliefs.

"One of the goals that we want to be able to do with sort of providing marriages and other ceremonies is be more involved in people's lives when they have those major milestones," said Bushfield.

"I know in the past we have been asked, I think for the most part, people tend to just end up going to a marriage commissioner because sort of priorities, but if people had the option I think they would be choosing it."