December 5, 2012

"A federal court in Indiana has rejected atheists’ requests to preside at wedding ceremonies..."

"... saying only clergy or public officials are licensed to solemnize marriages."
A lawsuit filed by the Indiana chapter of the Center for Inquiry argued that an Indiana law that requires marriages to be “solemnized” — made official by signing a marriage license — only by clergy, judges, mayors or local government clerks — violates the Constitution.
If you don't want a religious officiant, you're forced to use a government official. In Indiana.

May I suggest Colorado, where you can be your own officiant?

63 comments:

mccullough said...

In Colorado, you can also marry your first cousin.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Discrimination against ships' captains should get strict scrutiny.

Hagar said...

The U.S. may have the world's largest navy and merchant marine, but it is still a landlubber nation.

However, in this case the atheists have a point and another argument why marriage as a religious rite and marriage as a "civil union" legal status for tax purposes, etc., should be separated.

Mitch H. said...

Normally, I'm foursquare against whatever the atheists want, just on general principles. But they may actually have a case here. Government officials aren't interchangeable with clergy, by making them so for the purposes of authenticating a marriage, Indiana kind of is establishing a species of religion, by insisting on either secular & governmental, or private and explicitly religious, they're establishing said government officials as vicars in the Church of Secular Government.

What's the argument against giving notaries public this ability to officiate at weddings?

leslyn said...
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Dust Bunny Queen said...

However, in this case the atheists have a point

No they don't. Even a religious ceremony requires that you register with the county clerk (at least in California).

You don't have to have a 'religious' ceremony at all. You can have anyone officiate at your ceremony, just as long as the papers are signed and sent to the county.

The words at the ceremony do not have to be religious.

leslyn said...

Wis. Stats. 765.16Marriage contract, how made; officiating person. Marriage may be validly solemnized and contracted in this state only after a marriage license has been issued therefor, and only by the mutual declarations of the 2 parties to be joined in marriage that they take each other as husband and wife, made before an authorized officiating person and in the presence of at least 2 competent adult witnesses other than the officiating person. The following are authorized to be officiating persons:
(3) The 2 parties themselves, by mutual declarations that they take each other as husband and wife, in accordance with the customs, rules and regulations of any religious society, denomination or sect to which either of the parties may belong.

I always wondered how my friend got her daughter to officiate at her later-in-life wedding. Maybe they really just married themselves, and had her prompt them along. She and her daughter were members of the same denomination.

Pretty cool!

leslyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
leslyn said...

Depends on the state, DBQ.

Renee said...

Just got o city hall or use a Justice of Peace

The wedding industry has a lot of strange filler, to replace religious traditions.

I'm religious, so when I go to a non-religious wedding I prefer just the straight forward legalities. Seriously, the mixing of sand, giving roses to your parents, and the unity candle is just make it feel you didn't waste our time, having a wedding. But you are.

Ok, I feel like a jerk. But that's my opinion.

Like adults who marry in a church to make grandma happy, that's not the reason why you get married in a church. You get married in a church or whatever religious institution because it is what you believe.

It's your marriage, not grandma's.


MadisonMan said...

@Mitch, I think if only clergy could solemnize it, you'd have a point, but Indiana law (if I'm reading it right) also says that judges, mayors or clerks can do it.

IMO, they should remove the Clergy part. You can married in a church, sure. But for the govt to recognize it as a union, a separate piece of paper is needed. Don't call that a marriage. Call it a Civil Union. Required for Tax purposes and inheritance. Available to any two people.

Ann Althouse said...

People can put on whatever show they want at what they call the wedding. Sometimes people get married, say before a judge or mayor, then stage a wedding, which isn't the legal act that makes it a marriage.

Chip S. said...

I think you should be able to get divorced by reversing the process you used to get married.

Renee said...





I think of Justice of the Peace, like a public notary. Not just anyone can be a public notary, you have to apply and have a certificate.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

MadisonMan said...

Available to any two people.

Blatant polygaphobia.

Mitch H. said...

Renee, I used to go to a gaming session at a Wiccan couple's place, until the night I met their friends, who were gleefully plotting to misappropriate their Catholic relatives' church for their upcoming nuptials by misrepresenting themselves to the priest as members of his church. It so grossly offended me that I permanently disinvited myself from that particular circle. Not that all Wiccans are dishonest sneaks, but wow, that was rotten. Didn't help that there was also table-talk about the predatory sexual goings-on at some recent gathering-of-groups campout event that really made me think that this religion doesn't have nearly enough protections built into their doctrine and structure for actual, you know, children.

MadisonMan said...

I think you should be able to get divorced by reversing the process you used to get married.

So a priest would start by saying Bride the kiss may you?

Mitch H. said...

Hmm, Madison, you're right, it looks like Indiana law involves clergy in signing the marriage license. That's bollocks, either let anybody do that, or only a government clerk or official. That brings it out of the ceremonial realm, and into involving clergy, in their capacity as clergy, in government legalities.

Of course, the SCOTUS toleration of "civic religion" at things like swearings-in of government officials and convocations of legislatures has left the door wide open for *that* particular bit of establishment, I suppose.

The Gold Digger said...

were gleefully plotting to misappropriate their Catholic relatives' church for their upcoming nuptials by misrepresenting themselves to the priest as members of his church

Fortunately, they probably didn't get away with it, as the Catholic Church requires a six-month notice of intent to marry and pre-marital counseling. Not to mention the priest usually has a pretty good idea of who's been going and who hasn't. And there are records.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

you're right, it looks like Indiana law involves clergy in signing the marriage license. That's bollocks, either let anybody do that, or only a government clerk or official. That brings it out of the ceremonial realm, and into involving clergy, in their capacity as clergy, in government legalities.

No one is forcing you to have a religious ceremony. You can have a secular official and a ceremony of your choice at any later time. It is YOUR choice.

You want to take away the choice of having a religious ceremony.

Expat(ish) said...

When we got married in NC the clerk had to give us paperwork to take to the church. By give, I mean we had to wait in line and pay a very surly woman who will retire with better benefits than I will.

But I digress.

There was a sign on the wall that said, and I quote because it is seared into my memory, "$5 fee for STD's added to base license cost."

So I asked her how many STD licenses I had to buy to get married. She went to check and came back to inform me that there was only one per couple.

That was not the last time my bride-to-be wanted to give me a thick ear.....

-XC

PS - Clergy, JotP, or Notary back then. Plus two witnesses not related to you.

Renee said...

Mitch,

True one needs their Baptismal certificate, you just can't go in and say you're Catholic.

Otherwise, a couple could basically go through all the motions just to be married in a Catholic Church?

Yes, possible and probably does happen. It's called free will, and if a couple truly and intentionally wants to make a joke of marriage that's their problem, not mine in the end.

It seems like a lot of work, just to spite the Church. Really to sit through a Pre-Cana weekend and be educated on the Sacrament and go through the nuptial ceremony and make your vows all just hate for the Church?

Weird.




EMD said...

However, in this case the atheists have a point and another argument why marriage as a religious rite and marriage as a "civil union" legal status for tax purposes, etc., should be separated.

This. Governments should recognize contracts, not solemn vows.

Pogo said...

Allowing clergy to act in loco officialis is meant to save the couple from having to do 2 steps instead of one.

I find the idea of an atheist solemnizing at a ceremony rather hypocritical.

The word 'solemn,' with Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic roots, has close ties with the sacred and religious.

It suggests there is something to be serious about, that there is meaning. But how can there be meaning in a meaningless world? Why suggest significance when all else is insignificant?

Is it meant as a parody?

BarryD said...

"In Colorado, you can also marry your first cousin."

I know someone who married her brother. To somebody else. She is a minister.

But still, why can someone with a mail-order ordination from the Totally Bitchin' Church of the Light Brigade marry somebody, but an atheist cannot?

That seems utterly ridiculous and discriminatory.

Bruce Hayden said...

May I suggest Colorado, where you can be your own officiant?

Reminds me of college some 40+ years ago in Colorado. One guy I knew got ordained (or whatever) by the Ministers of the New Truth. He talked a bunch of us into signing up for our mail order DD and ordinations. And, yes, he also married several other students at school there. Great fun.

But, the other thing that has to be kept in mind is that Colorado is (or at least was, when I took the bar exam) a common law marriage state. One of the things that was pointed out during bar review was that there was no 7 day/ 7 month/ 7 year requirement for common law marriage. Rather, it was the holding yourself out as married to the public that was important. And, that could easily encompass having a ceremony with an unlicensed officiant. Here are the legal requirements:
1. Parties must both be over 18 years of age (see C.R.S. 14-2-109.5).
2. The parties must have agreed that they are husband and wife.
3. The parties must co-habitate as husband and wife after agreeing among themselves that they are husband and wife.
4. The parties must hold themselves out to the public at large as husband and wife.

I have always wondered though why more people haven't taken advantage of this facet of Colorado law. For example, a couple was introduced as a married couple in our law offices in Denver. Later, it turns out that they weren't considered legally married by another state. I would think that this would have been considered marriage under Colorado law, and therefore, pursuant to the Privileges and Immunities Clause, married everywhere else in this country.

The source of this law was presumably because, at least until very recently, some of the more remote counties didn't have a single doctor, lawyer, or clergy member living there. Used to be far worse, before the roads got paved and horses were replaced by cars.

Finally, Colorado (where I formally reside) and Montana (where I spend summers) are unique because they have both common law marriages and putative (or "deemed") marriages, where you get some of the benefits of having been married if you thought that you were, and it turns out that you weren't.

Hagar said...

It has also been claimed that airline pilots can officiate at weddings since they basically hold the same position as a captain at sea in previous centuries.

BarryD said...

"I find the idea of an atheist solemnizing at a ceremony rather hypocritical."

So atheists are morally obligated to eschew all ritual and present themselves as perpetually giddy?

I find that assertion to be rather asinine.

BarryD said...

"May I suggest Colorado, where you can be your own officiant?"

Or Kentucky, where you can be your own grandpa?

Shawn Levasseur said...

In Maine, any notary can perform a wedding.

The family attorney presided over my sister's wedding.

Pogo said...

What's the point of a ritual in atheism?

Seriously.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

True one needs their Baptismal certificate, you just can't go in and say you're Catholic

Wow. Good thing we didn't go for a religious ceremony then. Since I was baptized in Mexico, Cathedral of Guadalupe,a looooong time ago. I doubt that there ever was a baptism certificate issued. I still have my baptismal medallion ....does that count

:-P

Dust Bunny Queen said...

But still, why can someone with a mail-order ordination from the Totally Bitchin' Church of the Light Brigade marry somebody, but an atheist cannot?

How do you know that the County Clerk isn't an atheist? Maybe you should ask and demand one from the county.

BarryD said...

"What's the point of a ritual in atheism?"

So atheists can't sign contracts or get medals in the Olympics?

That's absurd.

Our lives are full of rituals. By asking that question, you make it sound as if God exists only in the rituals of believers.

Why would God need rituals for anything?

Rituals are a human activity, that exist worldwide, regardless of religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Renee said...

DBQ,

It's there in Mexico. They keep good records.

All I had to tell the priest was where I was Baptized, and the mailed the certificate from there.

Rusty said...

Chip S. said...
I think you should be able to get divorced by reversing the process you used to get married.


Both of you have to recite the ceremony backwards.

Renee said...

DBQ,

Your baptismal parish keeps all the records of Sacraments, I received my First Communion and Confirmation from another parish, but that information goes back to the baptismal parish.

Pogo said...

Rituals suggest meaning.

But the world lacks meaning. So why rituals?

I would think atheism portends absurdity and futility as touchstones.

Contracts aren't rituals. They can be ritualized, however.

BarryD said...

"How do you know that the County Clerk isn't an atheist? Maybe you should ask and demand one from the county."

No! I will NOT accept an agnostic!

Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!

Seriously, though, many weddings among my generation have been and are officiated by people who are RINOs (Reverends in Name Only). Some have a one-shot ordination for one wedding, because, like a 3-day fishing license, it's cheaper.

I'm guessing that many people who get these mail-order thingies are negative atheists or agnostics (have no beliefs in God, no church association, etc.). That's what makes this decision absurd.

BarryD said...

"Contracts aren't rituals."

The signing of a contract generally is.

Check the definitions of the word ritual. I don't think they are what you think they are.

Pogo said...

ritual (adj.)
1560s, from L. ritualis "relating to (religious) rites," from ritus "rite" (see rite). The noun is first recorded 1640s.

phx said...

Good thing we didn't go for a religious ceremony then. Since I was baptized in Mexico, Cathedral of Guadalupe,a looooong time ago. I doubt that there ever was a baptism certificate issued. I still have my baptismal medallion ....does that count

I wonder if Mick is aware of this?

AlphaLiberal said...

"... saying only clergy or public officials are licensed to solemnize marriages."

That's crazy. How can it be constitutional to require a religion to be married?

Once again, the Christianists want to ram their religion down our throats. And freedom dies a little more...

phx said...

You mean, I can get married without a woman in sight, but I have to have a religion?

Sigivald said...

I'm an atheist and I'm an ordained minister (because the ULC will ordain anyone, instantly and for free, though State paperwork to make it Count For Weddings isn't free).

I also can't make myself give a damn about this.

(Get the State out of marriage entirely, I repeat.)

Paul said...

Marriage is more of a religious concept than a political one.

It surely is not a concept of the godless atheist so they can just keep their nose out of it.

wyo sis said...

What's the point? To further degrade the role of religion in marriage? To do the opposite? To further degrade the idea of marriage? Or the opposite? To make it easier to get married? To make it harder to get married? To make it so no one cares about what marriage means? To make atheism into a religion itself?

Two options gives people a choice. Religious or government. So what? In the absence of religious belief government fills all needs. Right?

Howard said...

Lots of non-cheek turning from X-tians as per usual. I love the new motto:Christianity... at least we are less crazy than Muslims!

No matter how popular or legitimate the cult, cult members are always uber defensive.

Carry on

leslyn said...

phx said...
You mean, I can get married without a woman in sight, but I have to have a religion?

Apparently, in Wisconsin, you need another "party," and your religion can be any "sect."

(3) The 2 parties themselves, by mutual declarations that they take each other as husband and wife, in accordance with the customs, rules and regulations of any religious society, denomination or sect to which either of the parties may belong.

I think that's pretty amazing. Don't know if there's been any interpretation of this section, though.

Pogo said...

"Lots of non-cheek turning from X-tians"


Turning the other cheek doesn't require denying one's faith.

Mitch H. said...

No one is forcing you to have a religious ceremony. You can have a secular official and a ceremony of your choice at any later time. It is YOUR choice.

You want to take away the choice of having a religious ceremony.


I don't care about the ceremony. I care about the priest/monk/priestess/rabbi/minister/preacher/imam being involved in the signing of a civic document licensing the marriage. That's Caesar's, and the clergy, theistic or atheistic, shouldn't be involved in that non-religious transaction with the State. Helps make a proper distinction between your godly life - the ceremony and whatever doctrine your particular faith assigns to that ceremony - and your civic life - what affects how you pay your taxes and relate to statutory law, etc.

edutcher said...

The state just reserves the right to make sure you're not married to your Aunt Harriet.

Mitchell the Bat said...

Discrimination against ships' captains should get strict scrutiny.

Not to mention wagonmasters.

AlphaLiberal said...

... saying only clergy or public officials are licensed to solemnize marriages.

That's crazy. How can it be constitutional to require a religion to be married?


The word "or" escape you?

Marshal said...

Mitch H. said...
I don't care about the ceremony. I care about the priest/monk/priestess/rabbi/minister/preacher/imam being involved in the signing of a civic document licensing the marriage. That's Caesar's


This is 100% wrong. Marriage has been coopted by Caesar, not the other way around.

Peter said...


"In Colorado, you can also marry your first cousin. "

Wisconsin also permits first-cousin marriage- but only if the woman is over 55, or if at least one of the two can prove they're sterile.

But many states do have an absolute ban on first-cousin marriages.

Should the U.S. Supreme Court rule that states must accomodate same-sex marriage, could states with an absolute ban on first-cousin marriages prevent first cousins of the same sex from marrying? Or would this be struck down as a provision that served no rational purpose?

And, once first cousins of the same sex can marry everywhere in the USA, wouldn't that be promptly extended to opposite-sex couples where at least one was sterile?

SeanF said...

Renee: Your baptismal parish keeps all the records of Sacraments, I received my First Communion and Confirmation from another parish, but that information goes back to the baptismal parish.

What if you weren't baptized in a Catholic parish?

BarryD said...

Pogo, that's one definition of an adjective, and we've been using the word exclusively as a noun, so it's invalid on its face for the purposes of this thread.

Merriam-Webster's definition of the noun ritual:

1: the established form for a ceremony; specifically : the order of words prescribed for a religious ceremony
2
a : ritual observance; specifically : a system of rites
b : a ceremonial act or action
c : an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner

There are religious rituals, but the word is also used to refer to any repeated sequence of acts, e.g. in psychology to describe the pattern of behaviors practiced by someone with OCD.

Dust Bunny Queen said...


I don't care about the ceremony. I care about the priest/monk/priestess/rabbi/minister/preacher/imam being involved in the signing of a civic document licensing the marriage.


So? Then don't have a priest/monk/priestess/rabbi/minister/preacher/imam involved. No one is forcing you.

Go to the county clerk, ask for an atheist clerk if that floats your boat, pay your fees (the same fees that are paid by the people who use the priest/monk/priestess/rabbi/minister/preacher/imam) and have the clerk record your marriage licence/certificate.....just the same way that those people file who have had the priest/monk/priestess/rabbi/minister/preacher/imam who signed off on the marriage.

You just want to take away the choice of those who want to have a religious ceremony and make them do DOUBLE work.

Renee said...

SeanF,

From what I know it depends. The Church recognizes a baptism with water, as Baptism. My daughter's Godmother is not Catholic, but was Baptized. Her Godfather is Catholic. Her Godmother is listed as a Christian Witness on the record.

rcommal said...

I'm looking at the tags on that old post and cracking up. Bit then I'm feeling a tad giddy today.

kentuckyliz said...

Become a Universal Life Church minister with a free online ordination. They welcome atheists.

kimsch said...

My first wedding was in Germany. The only legal weddings are civil. If one wants a religious ceremony, one has it at another time from the civil ceremony.

Here in the States, generally a member of the clergy says something like, "By the power vested in me by God and the State of ______, I now pronounce you man and wife."

In Germany the clergy doesn't have the power granted by the state. Couples will have their civil ceremony during the week and the church wedding on Saturday.

My Hochzeittag was nice. The clerk wore a robe and the room was decorated with flowers. We also had an interpreter that we had to pay. And she was from a list of approved interpreters.

I think it's appropriate that the state keeps the records of the civil unions and contract between two people that ensues. And marriage can be dealt with religiously or not. This allows the atheist to officiate whilst still keeping the legal aspects with the state.

Revenant said...

Sounds like a no-brainer for the Supreme Court to overturn this one.

SeanF said...

Renee,

I know. My wife, before she met me, was both baptized and married in a Lutheran church. She did not need to be baptized in a Catholic church before becoming Catholic, but she did need to get an annulment of her first marriage before we could get married. The Catholic Church recognized both the baptism and the marriage.

My question was about your comments about the baptismal parish being the "go-to" parish for all the records. My wife was confirmed and married in a Catholic parish, but she has no baptismal parish to send the records.