Indiana Bans Humanist Celebrants from Performing Weddings, but This Lawsuit Could Change That

Suppose you’re an atheist getting married to another atheist. Who performs your wedding ceremony?

Maybe a priest (if your parents are paying for the ceremony).

Maybe a good friend (if they get the proper paperwork in time).

Maybe a Humanist Celebrant or a Secular Celebrant.

But in Indiana, only a handful of people are allowed to perform the task:

  • Members of the clergy
  • A judge
  • A mayor
  • A city clerk or circuit court clerk
  • Churches (if they solemnize the marriage, like in Mormonism)

No Humanist/Secular celebrants on the list.

Two things atheists could do without at a wedding ceremony

Is this discrimination against the non-religious? The Center For Inquiry thinks so and they’re arguing this point in court on Monday:

CFI… is asserting that the law is unconstitutional on the grounds that it allows persons of faith to be married by religious leaders of their choice, while denying similar opportunities to those who desire a nonreligious solemnization performed by a Secular Celebrant. This represents a clear preference for religion over non-religion in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and denies rights secured by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

“More and more Americans believe that everyone, regardless of gender, race, or religious beliefs, has the right to decide who they will be married to. But it’s also time to recognize that couples should have the right to decide who they will be married by,” said Reba Boyd Wooden, executive director of CFI’s Indiana branch and a Secular Celebrant. “I have high hopes that the court will recognize the right of secular Americans — and all those who would opt not to have a religious wedding — to celebrate their unions in the manner of their choosing, just as any person of faith may do.”

The obvious question may be: Why can’t atheists just get married by judges or clerks or mayors or any of the other secular options on the list?

That question is answered in the lawsuit (PDF):

A ceremony solemnized by secular elected officials is often not an acceptable alternative for any number of reasons including, but not limited to: limitations on time and place ceremonies may occur, the fact that religious concepts and language may be included notwithstanding the couple’s desires, the couple does not want the governmental overtone that the elected official’s presence carries, and the official typically does not know the couple personally and therefore cannot construct a service which expresses the couple’s values and personalities.

But can’t Humanist/Secular celebrants just go ahead and perform wedding ceremonies anyway?

No. It’s considered a Class B misdemeanor in Indiana if an unauthorized person performs such a ceremony. That’s why this case is important.

Listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Michelle Landrum and John Kiel (a couple wishing to be married by a Secular Celebrant) and Reba Boyd Wooden (a Secular Celebrant who is not allowed to perform their wedding).

CFI is hoping that Indiana Code 31-11-6-1 (which lists the people who can perform a wedding ceremony) will be declared unconstitutional as it stands right now and, temporarily, that the court will allow Wooden to perform the wedding ceremony without penalty.

This should be an easy decision since there’s no good reason to oppose Humanist/Secular Celebrants. It’s not like just anybody would be performing the ceremonies; these would be officiants who have been through a proper training. Let’s hope the courts see it that way, too.

(image via Shutterstock)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.


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