Secular Weddings Now Allowed in DC

Washington, DC has a new marriage law and it allows weddings to be officiated by humanist secular celebrants, something that many states, including my own, still refuse to allow. Melody Hensley, executive director of CFI DC, was at the ceremony and got a pen and the national group is praising the new law:

Nonreligious couples in the District of Columbia may now be married in a ceremony solemnized by a Secular Celebrant, thanks to Mayor Vincent Gray’s signing today of the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2013. The new law allows secular couples to choose a temporary “Civil Celebrant” who, for the purposes of the ceremony, is given the authority to solemnize a marriage between two persons who opt not to be married under the auspices of a church, or default to a mere “city hall” union.

The Center for Inquiry, an international organization which champions science, reason, and secular values, heralded the law’s signing as a key milestone in the march toward full social equality for America’s fastest-growing belief group: the nonreligious.

“The tide of history is turning in the direction of marriage equality, and not just in regard to who may get married to whom, but also to who is empowered to perform the marriage itself,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, the group’s president and CEO. “CFI has long championed the rights of nonreligious couples to have the choice of a wedding officiant that reflects their values and worldview, without being forced to compromise those principles with a church-affiliated ceremony or a pro forma act by a government functionary. Secular Celebrants, officially empowered to solemnize marriages, offer that choice, and give atheist, agnostic, and humanist couples the chance to have a truly meaningful ceremony.”

CFI has a lawsuit going in Indiana over the same issue.

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  • unemployedphilosopher

    Marriage laws are weird, aren’t they? I’ve solemnized six so far, and working out the county and state requirements is a huge pain in the ass. (Including once in my living room. The couple didn’t want a big ceremony, but I made them cry anyway. In a good way.)

  • dcsohl

    We were married under a similar law in MA – the law here likewise allows for a one-day license for a solemnizer, for a $25 fee.

    Are there any states that have licensing frameworks where humanists and other agnostics/atheists can qualify for a permanent license? Would that be a Justice-of-the-Peace arrangement?

  • Ryan Jean

    I officiated a wedding just this past weekend in Maryland for a Humanist Soldier. There’s no proper way to describe the feeling of being so intimately connected to the beginnings of a heartfelt union.

    As for DC, this law is great. To be completely honest, you could already get a secular ceremony through groups such as the Humanist Society (my endorser), because it is organized legally as a “church”-type nonprofit with the IRS, even though it’s stretching the terms to their limits to refer to Humanist Society and the like as either a church or religious. What this does is formalize that explicitly secular, trained Celebrants (such as CFI’s Secular Celebrants) who are *not* affiliated with a group like Humanist Society are now able to get full recognition to conduct ceremonies.

    This DC law will permit not just CFI Secular Celebrants, though, but anyone who wants to apply (assuming they meet other neutral criterion) for the purpose of a one-time ceremony. A family member or friend could do the ceremony without any need for them to be recognized as any form of officiant. That’s a positive step, too.

  • Johnny Vector

    What’s next, allowing weddings to be solemnized by fictional characters?

    Wait, I already did that. There’s an extra step though, where the actor portraying the fictional character has to get an ordination from Universal Life Church, which apparently is free. (According to the pffft of all knowledge, as of early 2009, ULC was sending out between 8,500 and 10,000 ordination certificates each month. Yow!)

    Sure, it’s basically a sham church, but it’s still a church. Nice to see at least DC removing that requirement.

  • Johnny Vector

    (Sorry, I should have said “something like an ordination from ULC”.) Mine was in Maryland as well, and I didn’t mean to imply that ULC is the only way to have a secular officiant.

  • dingojack

    “… but I made them cry anyway. In a good way.”

    unemployedphilosopher – Soooo I’m guessing no couple-oriented, two-handed, simultaneous nipple-cripples were involved then

    (Chinese burns?) 😀



    For a country that prides itself on being free of the pernicious effects of religion, you sure do have a lot of rit interfering in your day-to-day lives. (Maybe the Founding Fathers should have establish Pastafarianism, or something, and watched religion in public life wither away).

  • unemployedphilosopher


    No, there was no nipple-crippling at the ceremony. What they did afterwards, I don’t know. And am not going to ask. Because, well, none of my business.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Thanks, Ed, for reminding me that Montana has allowed marriage-by-whoever-you-can-find for a long time. Which matters, given that next month my daughter will be having a secular wedding there.

  • I’m a little confused. I live in Florida, and when my wife and I got married, we had a notary public officiate the ceremony. Could they not do that in DC, or is the law talking about something different?

  • I got married in Lake County, Illinois, in 1973. We went to the county courthouse the Saturday after we got our marriage license. What we didn’t know was, at that time, the county wouldn’t pay for judges to come in on Saturdays to do marriages, so they had volunteer ministers from the area who came in and do the ceremonies. We had no choice. We had a houseful of people waiting for us at our house, so we were married by the Rev Stanley D. Starr of the Lake Forest Baptist Church. He made us do a little counseling session before the actual ceremony. When he asked where Jesus was in our marriage my wife and I, along with the witnesses laughed hysterically. But he wound up doing the ceremony anyway.