OK House Gives Marriage Solely to Clergy

The Oklahoma House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill, HB 1125, that removes the government entirely from issuing marriage licenses. The bill would instead have clergy, judges and retired judges only submit marriage certificates after the fact to the state.

Oklahoma would stop issuing marriage licenses under legislation passed Tuesday afternoon by the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

House Bill 1125, by Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, would instead require those officiating marriage ceremonies to file after-the-fact “certificates of marriage” with court clerks’ offices. Alternatively, couples could file affidavits of common law marriage.

Russ said his bill is intended to “protect” county court clerks who do not want to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“This takes them out of the trap,” he said.

Somewhat ironically, the bill removes from statute language limiting marriage to one man and one woman. Other marriage restrictions would remain unchanged.

Opponents, most of them Democrats, said the bill would create a scenario in which Republicans will have legalized same-sex marriages even if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the lower court rulings the bill seeks to counter.

Supporters of HB 1125 said it fittingly removes the state from the marriage process. “Marriage was not instituted by government,” said Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan. “It was instituted by God. There is no reason for Oklahoma or any state to be involved in marriage.”

Except the state is already involved in a thousand different ways and this bill does nothing to change that. There are undoubtedly hundreds of benefits bestowed upon married couples embedded into state law, as there are in every state and at the federal level. All this bill does is narrow the number of people who can issue a marriage license, which would still have to be signed by the proper officials in order to be legally binding.

This is the exact opposite of what should be done. Marriage is a legal contract and should be taken completely out of the hands of the clergy. In order to be married, all you should have to do is get a license, sign it and file it with the government. If you then want to have a ceremony, regardless of whether it is a religious one or not, you can then do that, but the person who solemnizes or performs that ceremony should have nothing to do with whether the marriage is legally recognized or not. Clergy should not have any state power to make a marriage official.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • kantalope

    This works for me though as they can’t require religious affiliation so my church of the holy lift (skiing on sunday) can officiate as well as any and I could probably charge a pretty penny too.

  • llewelly

    I am wondering how the 1st amendment affects this.

  • themadtapper

    I’ve been pondering the potential ramifications of this bill, and it’s interesting. The intent is obvious. SCOTUS is probably going to force states to issue licenses to and recognize the marriages of gay couples, but they’ll restrict that to actual employees of the state, not to individual pastors and such. So OK says to themselves, “if we remove the state from marriage entirely, then we leave it in the hands of people who are still allowed to refuse”. That way they still manage hinder gay couples getting married by simply limiting the number of people who will be willing to actually marry them. But you can bet your ass that will wind up in court very quickly. So then the federal courts are going to be forced to make a major decision here. Do they force the state to take back the responsibility? How could you even enforce that? Do they force individual pastors to start providing licenses to gay couples, religious objections be damned? No matter what decision is made to rectify the situation (and I don’t believe for a second the courts, favorable as they’ve been toward gay couples, will sit idly by), it’s going to have sweeping ramifications once it makes its way to the SCOTUS. This could end up blowing up in OK’s face spectacularly, not just by getting themselves slapped by the courts, but by forcing a ruling that would affect all states.

  • felicis

    I wonder how long until the Satanic Temple starts marrying people…

  • llewelly

    kantalope:

    … church of the holy lift (skiing on sunday) …

    … as might be expected from Oklahoma’s runty mountains and usually short snow season, a little googling reveals that skiing in Oklahoma involves many trips to Colorado.

  • whheydt

    How this falls out will depend, I think, on the details involved in being a recognized officiant. If anyone can simply declare that they are “clergy” within the meaning of the act, then all a couple has to do is have some friend do that and marry them. If you have to have some form of “proof” that you are clergy, then there will be a run on ULC ordinations.

    Note also that the bill allows judges and retired judges to file certificates. SCOTUS could rule that sitting judges have no choice and *must* marry anyone who asks them to, and won’t *that* stir up the ant hill!

  • John Pieret

    themadtapper:

    I think you are mostly right. The bright lights who passed this probably thought they were largely restricting “marriage” to the kind of Christians they are. But even they knew that they couldn’t get away with that and had to allow Quakers (who don’t have ordained ministers), and others in as well, perform marriages. I’ve looked at the language of the bill and it is probably broad enough to include Pastafarians and other non-traditional religions too. And if state officials do not allow all religions (and that’s a broad category … including equivalents, such as Ethical Humanists) they will be forced to do so by Federal Courts fast enough to make their head spin.

    The only real upshot will be that gays and gay supporters will becoming “ministers” at a good clip to supplement gay friendly clergy in the state.

  • raven

    I don’t see any problem here.

    There are lots of Pagan priests and priestesses running around. I’m not one (yet), but that could change in a heartbeat. I do know one Pagan priestess already. And my friends were married by a Tibetan Buddhist priestess.

  • http://www.ranum.com Marcus Ranum

    I still want to marry a company.

    Periodically I ask Exxon-Mobil if they’ll marry my but so far my suit has been spurned. And shame on those who called me a “gold digger” this is true love.

  • eric

    @3;

    So OK says to themselves, “if we remove the state from marriage entirely, then we leave it in the hands of people who are still allowed to refuse”.

    Most of whom will also not fall under the government’s ‘immunity to suit while doing your job’ power either. The sitting judges will, of course, but it may make for an interesting case if some retired judge refuses to issue a state marriage license on some discriminatory grounds and gets personally sued for it.

  • kosk11348

    Raven, there are plenty of couples who want nothing to do with priests or priestesses. Atheist couples should have the right to hold a secular wedding without the presence of religious officiants.

    I agree with Ed. Marriage should be taken out of the hands of the clergy altogether.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    There are already secular celebrants and gay-friendly clergy operating throughout the state. This bill isn’t going to stop us from continuing to do so, at least not so far as I can see.

  • badboybotanist

    What about divorce? If the state is taken out of the marriage game, how can they still in involved in the dissolution of marriages? Is this going to remove the ability of people to be divorced or can anyone just declare themselves divorced with no legal framework? Seems like a potentially sticky situation.

  • vereverum

    Next will be the bill to punish those court clerks who affirm, endorse, and/or approve, the same sex marriage by accepting the filing.

    If issuing a license is an approval then accepting a filing is also an approval, so why wouldn’t that still be against the firmly held convictions?

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    The bill removes the process in place for licensing, it has no obvious effect on the divorce courts.

  • Chiroptera

    <a href="http://www.patheos.com/blogs/dispatches/2015/03/12/ok-house-gives-marriage-solely-to-clergy/#comment-409026whheydt, #6: If anyone can simply declare that they are “clergy” within the meaning of the act….

    Speaking from Oklahoma here, I remember a few years back when a minister friend of mine (recently moved to town) was telling me that he had finally got his “now I’m an official minister who can marry people” certification from the state, so it appears that there is an at least nominal recognition process.

    But, no, I don’t know how hard it is to get recognition.

  • D. C. Sessions

    There’s this little matter of the offici(ant|ial) performing the tasks otherwise performed by the clerks. Mostly this consists of determining that the parties involved actually meet the statutory requirments for getting married in OK (not otherwise married, consanguinity, age, etc.)

    Will the newly empowered individuals be personally liable if they don’t do that part of the job properly? I’m particularly thinking of the “age” part, but there are others.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    It’s not hard at all, Chiroptera. They don’t ask whether AHA or ULC or Dudeism or FSMism is legit, at least not in Oklahoma County.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    We’re already liable under §43-14 for performing any unlawful marriage, D.C.

  • marcus

    Ed:

    “In order to be married, all you should have to do is get a license, sign it and file it with the government.”

    This is how it’s done in Colorado. Although one can have a judge or clergy “solemnize”, everyone has the option to just fill out the paperwork themselves and have their marriage recorded by the clerk.

    PS: Respect and Salutations to Boulder County Clerk and Recorder Hillary Hall, who started issuing licenses to LGBT couples when the state anti-equality law was declared unconstitutional, and didn’t stop until the Colorado Supreme Court made her. Well Done.

  • doublereed

    I think even if this goes through it will be rescinded pretty quickly. It’s convoluted and bureaucratically annoying, even for heterosexuals.

    Doesn’t this still interfere with Equal Protection, though? I would think that the government has to provide a service like Marriage if people want to. Because otherwise you’re treating Marriage as if it’s something like a Public Accommodation, which is subject to nondiscrimination laws that clergy don’t like. I would question the constitutionality of something like this. The government has to provide its own licensing services.

  • Sastra

    “Marriage was not instituted by government,” said Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Duncan. “It was instituted by God. There is no reason for Oklahoma or any state to be involved in marriage.”

    It seems to me that U.S. representatives accepting this argument would be a church/state violation. Are they voting over whether my marriage of 38 years is not a REAL marriage because we’re atheists? Seems like it.

  • JustaTech

    How soon does this law go into affect? This might very well be a colossal pain in the butt for all the people who’ve planned spring and summer weddings and planned to get their certificate signed by a clerk. Now everyone’s got to scramble around and find a judge, retired judge or “minister”. How many people even know a judge?

    Good job OK, you’ve just added considerable hassle (and expense, because you have to pay these people, and probably feed them too) to a whole lot of people who just wanted to get married.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    Raven @ 8

    It’s simple. You find an initiated high priest like me (long story). I wave the magic wand (it’s really magic) I carefully made and

    *POOF*

    How does it feel to be a high initiate?

  • marcus

    @24 Mahalo, Kamaka. Am I on the path to becoming a Kahuna?

  • Loqi

    I bet Lucien Greaves is salivating. If this goes through, Satanists can move in and essentially act as the clerks used to: sign some paperwork with no ritualistic bullshit and bam, marriage licenses, with Satanists being the obvious good guys. The right will lose their collective shit.

  • heddle

    Ed,

    This is the exact opposite of what should be done. Marriage is a legal contract and should be taken completely out of the hands of the clergy.

    That. Exactly. Religious couples can still have a religious ceremony, they can even (and presumably would) consider that as the “real” marriage– but the legal marriage should be handled by the state and only the state.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    Marcus,

    He ala iki ko kahuna.

  • vereverum

    @ Loqi #26

    “…move in…” is the key phrase. From the bill:

    2. The preacher, minister, priest, rabbi, or ecclesiastical

    dignitary who is a resident of this state shall have filed, in the

    office of the court clerk of the county in which he or she resides,

    a copy of the credentials or authority from his or her church or

    synagogue authorizing him or her to solemnize marriages.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    Alas, Marcus, the vast oral library that was the Kāhuna class has been mostly lost. The suspension of the kapu system by the ruling class, combined with the pestilences of whaler’s diseases and Congregationalist missionaries pretty much wiped Kāhuna off the face of the Earth.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Americans make me laugh. They’re real little tricks sometimes.

  • D. C. Sessions

    We’re already liable under §43-14 for performing any unlawful marriage, D.C.

    But currently that only means that the principals have an official license. The clerk does all the prelminaries and the State takes the liability if the clerk screws up. Now …

  • macallan

    There are lots of Pagan priests and priestesses running around. I’m not one (yet), but that could change in a heartbeat.

    Here you go.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    macallan, are you trying to provoke sectarian strife?

  • colnago80

    Re Heddle @ #27

    It is my information that that’s how it works in France and Germany.

  • macallan

    Eris is a pagan goddess and a pope is a priest by definition.

    Here’s one for you too.

    If I lived in OK I’d start handing out pope cards in real life.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    Please fix your link, macallan.

  • marcus

    Kamaka @ 30 Your phrase exceeds the ability of the internet to translate. Translate for me if you don’t mind.

    What happened to the kanaka was reprehensible.

    Grace to you and your ohana.

    Aloha, mahalo. Truly.

  • teele

    “House Bill 1125, by Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, would instead require those officiating marriage ceremonies to file after-the-fact ‘certificates of marriage’ with court clerks’ offices. Alternatively, couples could file affidavits of common law marriage”

    Couples filing affidavits of common law marriage… I think this has way less to do with same-sex marriages, than in allowing all the Bornagins with 4 kids (the last two with their “fiance/e”) to claim they are really married, especially just before filing for tax refunds. All the better if saying “I divorce you” three times nullifies the marriage next month — or, is that some other crazy extremist religion that allows that practice?

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    It’s a saying from Old Hawaiʻi, an admonition, from the Pukui compedium Ōlelo Noʻeau, (Wise Sayings). I will try to transliterate.

    A narrow pathway (for) the kahuna.

    There’s a similar saying that is a favorite of mine:

    He ala ehu aku kēnā

    A misty pathway, that.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    Translated it would be:

    The Kahuna walks a narrow path.

  • marcus

    @41 The razor’s edge, I’ll warrant.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    @ 42

    To pass the “kahuna of medicine test”, it was required to break and set the bones of a family member.

  • http://kamakanui.zenfolio.com Kamaka

    Citations:

    Ōlelo Noʻeau by Pukui

    Ruling Chiefs by Kamakau

    The People of Old by Kamakau

  • https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=14822869 Paul Chapman

    It looks like the gist of this bill is that marriage is an establishment of religion.

    Not that I particularly mind an official recognition of marriage as inherently religious, but between this precedent and the First Amendment, every law about marriage could be deemed unconstitutional in the future.

  • Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    Ed wrote,

    This is the exact opposite of what should be done. Marriage is a legal contract and should be taken completely out of the hands of the clergy. In order to be married, all you should have to do is get a license, sign it and file it with the government. If you then want to have a ceremony, regardless of whether it is a religious one or not, you can then do that, but the person who solemnizes or performs that ceremony should have nothing to do with whether the marriage is legally recognized or not. Clergy should not have any state power to make a marriage official.

    Amen! I mean, that’s what we said when we got our marriage licence. That should have been it. Instead, we had to arrange for a [non-religious] ceremony as well.

  • Trebuchet

    Groan. Ed’s headline:

    OK House Gives Marriage Solely to Clergy

    is utterly contradicted by his first paragraph:

    The bill would instead have clergy, judges and retired judges only submit marriage certificates after the fact to the state.

    (My bold)

    It’s a de-facto legalization of SSM. It may be a little difficult for couples to find an officiant, but they’d have had to do that anyhow. There are a fair number of clergy, and no doubt judges, who would be willing to perform the ceremony. Oklahoma, for all its faults, has at least a few liberals. And if the Universal Life Church counts, well….

  • IX-103, the ■■■■ing idiot

    I’m not so optimistic. This seems to me to be a strategic withdrawal rather than surrender. This way the clerks do not have to actively perform the marriages, so clerks with objections can rationalize keeping their jobs. More importantly this removes half of the normal paper trail involved in a marriage. Since the only paperwork is a certificate submitted by a third party, it sure makes it easy to “misfile” the certificates instead of recording them.

  • http://skepticink.com/backgroundprobability/ Damion Reinhardt

    “And if the Universal Life Church counts, well…”

    It does, and yes, we’ve been doing same-sex secular solemnizations.

  • https://www.facebook.com/caroline.zink.hott Caroline Abbott

    The article refers to the bill as introduced , not what passed. The bill that was voted on in the House was amended in committee (way back on 18 February), and permits judges to solemnize marriages. Further, religious groups that do not recognize clergy are able to solemnize marriages according to their own traditions.

    In addition to these changes, the bill enables couples who do not desire any kind of formal ceremony to file an affidavit of common law marriage.

    Both the certificate (which replaces the license) and the affidavit give the same legal weight and status to couples that marriage licenses provide.

    Here is a link to the amended bill.

  • vereverum

    @ IX-103 #48

    It’s a handback procedure, the clerk records the certificate then annotates the original with the location of the record and the clerk’s certificate then returns it to whomever brought it in. Also, there is a minor but annoying penalty for “misfiling” a certificate.

  • http://essaressellwye.tumblr.com Hershele Ostropoler

    I suspect UU ministers would perform marriages for couples who, for one reason or another, can’t be married by their own clergy (such as because they don’t have any).

    Of course then the state could turn around and say “there’s no First Amendment problem because no one is prevented from getting married due to religion”