Indiana Court Upholds Ban on Secular Celebrants Who Want to Perform Weddings

According to Indiana Code 31-11-6-1, only a handful of people are allowed to perform a marriage: members of the clergy, churches themselves, a mayor, a city clerk… but not a Secular Celebrant or Humanist Celebrant.

The Center For Inquiry recently sued the state over this, saying it was unconstitutional to allow people of faith to be married by their faith leaders, while denying non-religious people the right to have their marriages performed by a Celebrant.

Two things atheists could do without at a wedding ceremony

Their lawsuit, in part, said this (PDF):

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.

Unfortunately, an Indiana federal district court ruled against CFI on Friday. The judge said that non-religious people already *can* perform weddings… provided that they go through the proper channels. Becoming a trained Celebrant, however, doesn’t qualify as a “proper channel”:

We conclude that the Solemnization Statute is rationally related to the legitimate purpose of alleviating significant governmental interference with pre-existing religious beliefs about marriage. Additionally, the statute bears a rational relation to the equally reasonable purpose of allowing the government to assume responsibility for the marriage regulation function without ostracizing its religious constituents. For these and all of the reasons explicated above, we find that Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim — whether grounded in Free Exercise Clause or Establishment Clause jurisprudence — does not succeed on the merits.

The court offered alternative ways for Secular Celebrants to perform weddings:

… there are several readily available avenues by which a Secular Celebrant may facilitate a marriage ceremony in Indiana: she may (1) preside at a wedding and then instruct the couple to go before one of the individuals listed in the Solemnization Statute to have the marriage solemnized; (2) become a member of the “clergy” by seeking immediate Internet ordination from the Universal Life Church; or (3) seek certification to solemnize marriages from the Humanist Society.

So… to paraphrase:

1) Secular Celebrants can perform a wedding… as long as they tell the couple to go see a Rabbi afterwards.

2) Secular Celebrants can perform a wedding… as long as they pay a few bucks to a random church online.

3) Secular Celebrants can perform a wedding… as long as they get certified by a group founded by Quakers.

It’s amazing to me that a trained Secular Celebrant is unable to legally perform a wedding, but a random schmuck who pays a few bucks online can. How this is anything but an unfair preference to religious people (who don’t have to have any particular credentials) is lost on me.

(via Religion Clause)

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.