Non-religious and Pagan weddings are to finally become law in Ireland under proposed new legislation.

The Irish government is expected to back legislation giving humanists the same status as organised religions and civil registrars in conducting marriage ceremonies.

The Irish Times reports that  the proportion of couples choosing a non-religious, civil wedding ceremony in Ireland has increased from six per cent in 1996 to more than 23 per cent in 2006.

Social Protection minister Joan Burton is to ask ministerial colleagues to support the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill.

The paper reports that the legislation was introduced as a Private Members’ Bill by Trinity College Senator Ivana Bacik. It is due to pass final stages in the Upper House of the Irish parliament on Wednesday.

The new legislation proposes to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004, which regulates the registration of civil marriages according to the paper.

It states that the existing 2004 Act stipulates that, apart from Health Service Executive registrars, only a member of a ‘religious body’ may celebrate legal marriages.

A ‘religious body’ is defined as: “An organised group of people, members of which meet regularly for common religious worship.”

The current law includes the Pagan Federation Ireland and the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, both of whom have obtained registration under the Act.

It excludes members of the Humanist Association of Ireland, who currently conduct humanist wedding ceremonies even though these are illegal.

The new bill also proposes to extend the right to conduct civil marriages to nonreligious groups such as the HAI.

Any group of this nature must be a ‘philosophical and non-confessional body’, have been performing marriage ceremonies for at least five years, and at least 20 couples must have participated in the ceremony according to the proposed bill.

HAI spokesman Brian Whiteside told the Irish Times: “In the past, we have been left out in the cold but we persisted in efforts to obtain the right to solemnise marriages and have parity of esteem with religious bodies.

“There had been no real progress until the change of government last year.

“As the law stands presently a couple cannot have a legally binding, nonreligious marriage ceremony on a Saturday, as the State registrars work only Monday to Friday.”

The HAI has nine accredited celebrants who conducted 153 marriage ceremonies last year.