Legislation predicted to pass in Ireland's Parliament will give pagan and nonreligious wedding ceremonies full legal status, Irish media reported Tuesday.
The legislation, entitled the Civil Registration (Amendment) Bill, is expected to be passed in the final stages of Irish Parliament's Upper House by Thursday, according to the Irish Central news wire.
Additionally, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton has reportedly agreed to back the legislation, and has agreed to ask her colleagues to support the bill as well.
The legislation, which proposes to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 to include humanists, was introduced by Trinity College Senator Ivana Bacik as a Private Members' bill.
The original 2004 Act restricts the ability to perform a legal marriage to a religious authority or religious body, which is defined as "an organised group of people members of which meet regularly for common religious worship."
When Bacik proposed the bill at the Seanad Éireann [Upper House of Ireland's Parliament] Debate in Nov. 2011, she said there were two reasons why the the legislation should be considered important.
"First, it will have a significant positive impact on the quality of life of individuals and couples who wish to celebrate their marriage in a humanist ceremony. At present, they cannot celebrate their marriage legally through a humanist ceremony," Bacik told those in attendance at the debate, including Burton.
"Second, this change would be in keeping with the traditional role of the Seanad as a forum for bringing forward progressive social reforms. I am proud that this bill is a creature of the Seanad. It will illustrate how appropriate a legislative forum the Seanad is for having debates on key changes in our society," she added.
While the original bill provided legal permission to marry to the Pagan Federation Ireland and the Spiritualist Union of Ireland, this new amendment also includes the Humanist Association of Ireland (HAI).
Humanism is defined as "any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate," and usually involves lack of a god.
According to the HAI website, a Humanist "believes that the happiness of individuals and of humankind depends on people, rather than on religion and dogma."
"As Humanists we are committed to the application of reason and science, to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems," the website says.
This legislation comes just one month after the Conference of Irish Catholic Bishops composed a 12-page letter, entitled "Repent and Believe the Good News," to the Irish people pleading with them to ignore the secularism spreading across Europe and to "focus on our dependency on God and our need for [His] strength."
"Europe in our time is a culture, almost unique in history, in which God appears to be silent and unmissed in the lives of many. There are many spheres of life in which even believers rarely recognize the relevance of the Gospel," the bishops' message begins.
"None of us remains unaffected by our culture. It takes a real effort in a busy and noisy world to take time to reflect, to ask the fundamental questions about what our lives mean and where they are leading. It is a world in which we need to make space to recognize the challenge of turning our lives around and to putting our priorities right," the letter adds.
In his 2010 Pastoral letter, Pope Benedict XVI warned Ireland that it is in danger of following suit with a large portion of Europe by becoming increasingly more secularized.
The marriage amendment does have its regulations, however. As the Irish Times reports, any group performing a marriage must be a "philosophical and nonconfessional body," have been performing marriages for at least five years, and must have successfully married at least 20 couples.
Nonreligious and civil wedding ceremonies in the country have increased from six percent in 1996 to over 23 percent in 2006, according to the publication.
After the bill passes through Parliament's upper house Thursday, it will proceed to the Dail, Parliament's lower house, for approval.