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Brian Whiteside performing a humanist wedding ceremony outside of Dublin Photo by: Reuters

Atheist weddings soar as Ireland turns away from the Catholic Church

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Brian Whiteside performing a humanist wedding ceremony outside of Dublin Photo by: Reuters

2013 marks the first year that Ireland has legally welcomed atheist weddings, and the few people who are authorized to perform such ceremonies are overwhelmed with the demand.

Reuters reports that as Ireland moves away from its traditionally Catholic-centric society, the demand for the Humanist Association of Ireland’s secular weddings has surged.

The trend in Ireland shows that couples are moving away from the Church and to more secular options for weddings. In 1996, 90 percent of Irish weddings were performed by the Catholic Church or the Church of Ireland. But by 2010 that percentage had fallen to 69 percent.

The pent-up demand from those who want more than a civil ceremony in a registry office but reject a religious wedding has created a major backlog for the humanist group's ceremonies director, explains Reuters.

Brian Whiteside, who was for a while Ireland’s only recognized “solemnizer” for humanist weddings, was booked well into 2014 for ceremonies until Ireland recognized ten others who could perform the unions this past June.

A former Dublin businessman, Whiteside said he began presiding at humanist weddings back when they were simply a symbolic ceremony rather than the official act.

"It remains very, very busy," Whiteside said of this year. "We're all finding it difficult to keep up with the inquiries. We had 595 new inquiries in the first three months of this year, which in a little country like Ireland is quite a few."

Being the only recognized officiant until June of this year, Whiteside was performing one to two ceremonies a week. He is scheduled for 90 weddings this year, and another 50 in 2014.

"It became a sort of second career," Whiteside said. "I don't want to make a business out of this, but it means a lot to me."

Ending a ten year campaign by the Humanist Association, the Irish parliament legalized secular wedding services in December 2012, with the law going into effect on January 1, 2013. Ireland now joins Australia, Canada, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway, Scotland and some U.S. states in the recognition.

Prior to 2013, couples only had two options for becoming wed - the Church, or the registrar’s office. Only clergymen were permitted to officiate weddings outside of the registrar’s office, and inside the registrar’s office, couples would have to settle for a civil ceremony.

Aside from wedding ceremonies, the Humanist Association of Ireland also offers ‘naming ceremonies’ and funerals in their services. The organization’s website says, “The Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI) is a national organisation that promotes the ideals and values of Humanism, working for people who choose to live an ethical life without religion. The HAI grew from and replaced the Association of Irish Humanists (AIH), which was founded in 1993 and renamed in 2004.”

One Irish bride Suzy Addis and her South African husband Brendan Hastings opted for a humanist wedding in Slane, outside of Dublin, this year, and used Whiteside as their officiant.

"Basically we are both atheists and didn't want a religious ceremony," said Hastings. "Other weddings we have gone to tended to be all about Jesus and we're not into that. We were both raised as Catholics but kind of gave it up."

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