Wednesday, August 13, 2008

I now pronounce you...

As some of you may be aware, Hide and I are getting married soon. In planning the wedding, possibly the most difficult aspect we've encountered so far is finding someone to perform the ceremony.

The difficulty, as you may expect, is that we are not religious: Hide doesn't subscribe to any religious doctrine and I'm an atheist.

In some countries this wouldn't be a problem. In parts of the US we would simply recruit a Justice of the Peace to perform the ceremony. If we lived in Scotland we could contact the Humanist Society for a list of local Humanist Celebrants. But despite South Africa's allegedly very progressive constitution, non-religious people seem to be actively discriminated against here.

According to South African law, we have two options:

  1. Get married in court.
  2. Get married in a church.

The reason that these are the only options is that the only people (other than judges) who are allowed to obtain marriage officer certification from the Department of Home Affairs are members of the clergy of recognised churches. The law is progressive enough to include clergy of just about any religious organisation that has an established presence in South Africa, but stops short of recognising non-religious affiliations.

This is very problematic for us, and presumably for other non-religious couples in South Africa. If we want to be married in a traditional ceremony, but without involving someone's imaginary friend in the equation, we're out of luck. All we can hope for is to find a marriage officer who is either a religious apostate, or liberal enough to be prepared to leave the superstition out of it. And that appears to be no mean feat.

Getting married in court is an absolute last resort for us. It seems silly to have two weddings: one for the friends and family, and a second for the Department of Home Affairs. Why should we have to have two ceremonies when religious people need only one?

And that's not all. For some time now I've been interested in qualifying as a marriage officer myself. It seems only fitting that a Starship Captain (such as I) should be empowered to perform weddings - it's a maritime tradition going back as far as anyone can remember. But since STARFLEET International isn't a religious organisation, that would be impossible as well.

So what can humanists, secularists and atheists do about this sort of thing? How do we go about changing this clearly discriminatory piece of legislation? Seriously. That's not a rhetorical question. How do we do it?

Are you a married South African secularist? How did you get past this hurdle?

Are you an apostate or liberal marriage officer? Contact me, please!