What’s the difference between a humanist celebrant and an independent celebrant? – Creating Ceremony

A question that I’m asked a lot (and more frequently due to the news in recent weeks) is ‘what’s the difference between a humanist celebrant and an independent celebrant?’

In fact, many people don’t realise that there is any difference at all. Even funeral directors and wedding suppliers and venues often don’t know the difference between humanist and independent celebrants.

The reason that this has become a popular question of late is that at the beginning of July 2020, six couples took a case to the High Court because they felt that to deny humanist couples in England and Wales a legally recognised wedding that reflected their beliefs, was against their human rights. Similar court cases in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Jersey have resulted in humanist celebrants being permitted to conduct legally binding wedding ceremonies in those countries, and Humanists UK hoped that the same would happen here.

Friends and wedding colleagues were soon messaging me with comments like ‘ooh I heard about the court case – fingers crossed!’

Well yes, for the humanists, but also… no, as that would mean independent celebrants would not be included in any ruling that was made on the grounds of this case (the judgment is still pending and the celebrant world is collectively holding its breath…).

I, like the vast majority of celebrants in the UK, am not a humanist celebrant but an independent celebrant. And yes, there is a difference between the two, although you might not notice it at all unless you know what you’re looking for!

So what ARE the differences between humanist celebrants and independent celebrants, and how can we spot them?

Well I’m glad you asked! So here goes (got your binoculars?!):

Spot the difference ~ Sussex celebrant Claire Bradford of Creating Ceremony
Spot the difference

The biggest difference between independent celebrants and humanist celebrants is their belief structure. But even this isn’t at all obvious!

Humanist celebrants are members of Humanists UK and are trained by them too. Humanists UK is an organisation of non-religious folk who trust in the scientific view of the universe and reject any idea of the supernatural, and they share that view whilst doing charitable work. So far so good.

(Interestingly enough, their non-religious views make them, at least in the eyes of the Scottish law, a ‘belief body’, along with several different religious groups who can also conduct legal marriages there.)

Independent celebrants differ from humanist celebrants in this because our religious, spiritual or atheist beliefs vary from celebrant to celebrant. Some independent celebrants are Pagan, some Christian, some Buddhist, some agnostic… you get the idea. 

Where independent celebrants and humanist celebrants are the same is that we all want the couples and families that we work with to have a ceremony that reflects them and their beliefs.

How you might spot the difference…

OK, so now I’m even more confused…

And so, dear reader, I’m hoping that you get my point now that there really isn’t much of a difference between humanist celebrants and independent celebrants. We’re all thoroughly lovely people who want to provide unforgettable ceremonies for the couples and families we work with.

There is no real reason to divide us at all but, if it is decided that only humanist celebrants (and not independents) can legally conduct weddings in England and Wales, then there will be a big divide which, to my mind, would be greatly unfair.

Instead, I’m keeping my fingers and toes all crossed that ALL my celebrant colleagues (both independent and humanist) will be considered in the upcoming Law Commission Review on weddings and that any win in the recent court case will push forward a decision for ALL of us to be able to offer super personalised, celebratory and LEGAL weddings to awesome couples in awesome places very soon.

So if you’re a believer in such things, pray for a happy outcome for all celebrants. If you’re not, write to your MP (you could even pray and write to your MP if you’re feeling bougie). However you make things happen, please help make things happen! I can’t wait for a day when, together with my independent and humanist celebrant friends and colleagues, we can perform legal weddings.

And in the meantime, if you want a non-legally binding but beautifully personalised ceremony that reflects you, your personalities, interests and beliefs (religious, spiritual or otherwise), you know who to call… 😃


In case you’re wondering, I was brought up bog standard CofE and (fun fact) even worked for the Diocese of Chichester for two years. For a while (a long time ago), I seriously considered going for the priesthood but decided I couldn’t fully nail my colours to the beliefs mast – a situation I also found myself in about 6 years ago when I wondered about training as a celebrant with Humanists UK.

Nowadays I’m a bit of a ‘pick and mix’ when it comes to religion and spirituality – and I do love me a bit of woowoo every now and then! I pretty much embrace it all on the religion and spirituality front and love it when people want to include aspects in their ceremonies – though I’d probably draw the line at sacrificing a virgin on an altar or anything like that (it’s a nightmare to fill out the risk assessment…)

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This content was originally published here.