A High Court bid, that would have brought legal recognition for humanist marriages, has failed.

Six couples had launched a case aimed at giving humanist weddings the same weight in law as religious ceremonies.

They were seeking a declaration that the government’s refusal legally to recognise humanist marriages in England and Wales was a breach of their human rights. Such marriages have been legally recognised in Scotland since 2005 and in Northern Ireland since 2018.

The judge, Mrs Justice Eady DBE, acknowledged that “the discrimination suffered by the claimants is real”, but cited an ongoing Law Commission review of marriage law to stop short of saying the government was acting unlawfully. The court also heard that the government planned on publishing a consultation with the Law Commission on the subject next month.

Andrew Copson, chief executive of pressure group Humanists UK, told the Law Society Gazette: “We’ve waited 19 years for this reform since it was first considered by the government in an ultimately abandoned review of marriage law, and seven years since Parliament gave the government the power to bring about legal recognition of humanist marriages without requiring a new Act.

“Thanks to this judgment, it is at least now not a matter of if humanist marriages will be legally recognised but when, and we await the government’s proposals to remedy the discrimination identified by the court.”

More than 1,000 couples per year already have a humanist wedding in England and Wales, but they must then have a separate civil marriage for their union to be legally recognised.