Secular Celebrant Bill Advances in Oregon

A bill that would allow humanist secular celebrants to officiate at weddings in Oregon is making progress in the state legislature. The bill has been advocated strongly by the CFI chapter in Portland and it has passed out of a House committee and should get a floor vote soon.

Introduced by Rep. Mitch Greenlick and supported by the Center for Inquiry, House Bill 3483 would add organizations “whose members subscribe to secular values, beliefs and practices” to the list of those currently authorized to officially solemnize marriages in the state. This would mean that nonreligious Oregonians, or anyone who does not wish to have their marriage officiated by clergy or a government functionary, will have the option of being married by a Secular Celebrant, such as those trained and certified by CFI.

History was made last year in Indiana when a federal judge ruled that the state could not bar CFI’s Secular Celebrants from solemnizing marriages, with Judge Frank Easterbrook declaring it unacceptable that the nonreligious “are shut out as long as they are sincere in following an ethical system that does not worship any god, adopt any theology, or accept a religious label.” More information on the Indiana case is available at

“The people of Oregon who are living fulfilling, ethical lives without religion deserve the same rights as those who are religious,” said Brian Harvey, executive director of CFI-Portland, a branch of the Center for Inquiry. “This includes the right to have their marriages solemnized by someone who shares their life stance. No one would deny a religious couple’s right to be married by a representative of their worldview, and we who hold dear the principles of science and reason ask for nothing more and nothing less.”

Added Harvey, “For the nonreligious citizens of Oregon, and for people of all persuasions who believe in equal treatment under the law, we urge the House to pass this bill.”

We’re working on getting a similar bill submitted here in Michigan. Last week we did a lobby day and found most Democrats and even a few Republicans who said they were willing to sponsor or support such legislation. The easiest way to get it passed here would be to amend another bill already submitted that would expand the list of those who can solemnize marriages to include township supervisors. As the chair of CFI-Michigan’s new advocacy committee, that’s my first priority.

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  • Modusoperandi

    Mitch Greenlick

    The Lord of the Rings character?

  • dingojack

    I think I’ve mentioned that the last wedding I went to was held on a beach and was officiated over by a wedding celebrant of a non-religious ilk*.

    Here the ceremony is an extra, it’s signing the paper that marries you.

    Why is it, do you think, that America turned out to be so religious? I mean, you had a constitution founded on Enlightenment ideals that specifically prevented the government getting into the religion business, and yet it has a strong cultural and official hold over the population.

    Here, there was a proscribed official religion but (as in other English colonies, excepting perhaps those that had native Polynesian/Micronesian/Melanesian populations) religiosity waned away in terms of importance, both culturally and officially.

    I’d love to know why this is so.



    * She’s Swiss and he’s HK Chinese, and neither gives a hoot about religion.

  • hunter


    Just for fun, think of it this way: the overwelming majority of the colonists subscribed to strongly patriarchal religions, and given the character of early American society — not only agrarian/rural, but settlements and single homesteads could be quite isolated: church became one of the very few occasions to see the neighbors. I’m reminded of Appalachia in the 1950s and even into the ’60s and ’70s: you went to people’s funerals even if you didn’t know them (although everyone pretty much knew everyone, or knew someone who did — I once went to the funeral of a cousin I hadn’t even known existed) because funerals were one of the major social occasions, which were otherwise limited to Sunday services and rare trips into town.

    Consequently, churches became the social glue: not only gathering places, but support networks, quasi-official registrars, and the like. And if it’s a church, there’s always a sermon.

  • Synfandel

    Dingo, another theory boils down to this:

    Wealth allows people to feel more secure in the sense that they are confident of having their basic needs met and expect to lead a long healthy life. In such environments, there is less of a market for religion, the primary function of which is to help people cope with stress and uncertainty.

    [In the USA] Despite having great wealth, the riches are unevenly distributed. Such income inequality is typical of developing countries and it has worsened considerably in recent decades. Moreover, we lack the well-developed welfare state found in Europe that serves to redistribute wealth and provides a safety net for the poor.

    Health is nothing to brag about either with a life expectancy similar to that in Costa Rico [sic]. Education is also in decline according to international comparisons.

    The bottom line, then, is that Americans feel far less secure economically, and in relation to their health and well-being than would be expected given the overall wealth of the country in terms of GDP per capita. This existential insecurity provides a fertile ground for religion.

    Nigel Barber in Psychology Today.

  • Synfandel

    That theory, by the way, Dingo, for what it’s worth, gibes with the fact that in the People’s Democratic Republic of Canada, in spite of our proximity to, and economic integration with, the US, we’re not typically as religious as our American cousins.

  • Modusoperandi

    Synfandel “That theory, by the way, Dingo, for what it’s worth, gibes with the fact that in the People’s Democratic Republic of Canada, in spite of our proximity to, and economic integration with, the US, we’re not typically as religious as our American cousins.”

    What about the playoffs?

  • Pierce R. Butler

    dingojack @ # 2 – Also, consider that in the US, without an “official” church, all the preacher-persons have to hustle for each butt in the pew and each penny in the basket.

    This has led to strong traditions of evangelical entrepreneurialism here in Exceptionalistan, to degrees that would seem downright undignified, possibly even uncouth, in Her Majesty’s domains elsewhere.

  • dingojack

    Thanks all for that. Many interesting ideas.

    I thinks there’s also an element of: when one has a religion forced onto you it creates a natural resistance and so naturally dies out, where as choosing to belong forces the adherents to defend their ‘expenditure’ in believing. Often the latter takes the form of compartmentalising ideas that conflict away from each other, believing in some kind of secret, magic communication system (that only the adept is privy to, and then only in stages as one ascends the hierarchy, which serves to obscure information or hide lack of it), enforced order-creating behaviours (a downward directed ‘pecking order’, ritualised and ‘standardised’ speech and actions, and so on…) All these are typically found in authoritarian social and political organisations.

    All this tends to exaggerate the importance of the ‘secret world’ that ‘controls’ the society

    and creates unequal and oligarchic political structures that positively feed-back onto the unequal and oligarchical religious structures.

    Just some thoughts that occurred to me.


  • Gregory in Seattle

    I’ve talked to a couple of lawmakers in Washington State about doing what Maine, South Carolina and Florida already do: allow notaries public to be wedding officiants. It is really nothing more than a notary act, after all, in that the celebrant takes a jurat from the couple, then countersigns their signatures and the signatures of two witnesses. Everyone seems to like the idea, but nothings been proposed yet.

  • dingojack

    If you can point out that it hasn’t lead to co-habiting of canines and felines in the places where it’s done that way, would that speed the process?


  • Dr X

    with Judge Frank Easterbrook declaring it unacceptable that the nonreligious “are shut out as long as they are sincere in following an ethical system

    Why should the sincerity of their ethical system even matter? Who gets to decide that? How about we say that driver’s licenses should only be issued by people who qualify based on the sincerity of their ethical systems?

    Instead, it should be a matter of fulfilling straightforward requirements of the law, not guessing at the sincerity of ethical systems of officiants, as if that’s the source of magic pixie marriage dust.