City Council Member in Washington D.C. Proposes Bill to Allow Atheists to Officiate Weddings

If you and your atheist partner want to get married in Washington, D.C. your wedding would have to be officiated by either a religious figure or a government official.

The application requires the parties to identify the name of the officiant who will perform the marriage ceremony. The officiant is any District of Columbia Judge or anyone who is authorized by a religious organization to officiate marriages, such as a minister, priest, rabbi or imam, so long as he or she is registered with the Marriage Bureau to officiate marriages.

What about a Humanist or Secular Celebrant? It wouldn’t count. They’re not on The List.

But that could soon change thanks to City Council member (and possible candidate for Mayor) Tommy Wells:

Tommy Wells (via The Washington Post)

… Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) introduced a bill that would make it easier for couples to call upon any officiant they want for their weddings. The bill would create a one-day officiant permit that would allow the holder to solemnize a wedding without having to prove any religious affiliation.

At any level of government, there are some bills that need to be debated and discussed at length… and then there are bills like this that should be approved without hesitation.

But I’d request one change: Get rid of the one-day permit and just let licensed Humanist/Secular celebrants perform weddings without jumping through hoops for every couple.

Incidentally, The Center For Inquiry sued the state of Indiana over this very issue — allowing Secular Celebrants to officiate weddings — and their lawsuit was thrown out. If only that state had a legislator like Tommy Wells to propose a change to the law.

(Thanks to Rob for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Ken

    Tommy Wells is a really good guy. I used to play basketball with him years ago. He is a role model and champions many good causes

  • Stev84

    They should do away with the licensed officiant nonsense entirely. Have people get legally married at city hall. They need to get their marriage license there now. They could either get married by signing the papers, or by having a short ceremony by a government officiant. Then they can have any ceremony they wish later. But it would be purely symbolical.

  • The Captain

    Yea this is a no-brainer, but for anyone in a state that hash’t done this yet the Universal Life Church is a pretty good option. A buddy of mine drunkenly signed me up almost a decade ago on it as a reverend, then to years ago I officiated a wedding for two of my friends and to my surprise the website for the church still had all my info ready to go so I could send it to the state.

    I mean sure, it’s kinda bunk that atheist have to pretend to be a religious leader but hell, it’s all make-believe anyway so why not have some fun with it. Too bad I could’t do it as a “wizard”.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    i keep saying this: get the government out of my relationship(s).

    or: equal rights, period. gay, straight, married, gay married…

    wanna get married? someone will help you. i got married outside of a city hall by a sideshow type preacher with a voice like a famous R&B singer, for $23. right after we signed up for a state sponsored certificate in which we “affirmed” we were not first cousins or insane.

    it’s all such a stupid farce. or romantic, but still. this is not the government’s business. or it shouldn’t be.

    i can have kids regardless. i can (hopefully) have a job with benefits and be married and share them with my partner. i can not be married, still have benefits and freedom. or enjoy equal rights and 200 biblical girlfriends and sister-wives, because my religion commands it.

    the 14th amendment to the Constitution is pretty clear. let’s just enforce that, OK? and get our elected officials to the more important business of job creation, alternative energy, and ending senseless wars of choice.

  • Joshua Katz

    Marriage is a government institution. Why not go to a JP? (Then again, maybe I’m biased since I’m a JP.)

  • Ryan Jean

    What about a Humanist or Secular Celebrant? It wouldn’t count. They’re not on The List.

    FWIW, while this is true about Secular Celebrants (such as CFI’s program), it is to my knowledge not true about Humanist Celebrants (such as AHA/HS) if you go through the process of registering, which involves a $35 one-time fee (and several other hoops in the form of notary-public verified documents). Having Humanist Celebrant certification myself, I have considered filling out the DC registration, but haven’t had the need yet.

    That being said, excluding CFI’s celebrants is pure BS, and needs to be changed. The one-day secular registration isn’t a bad idea, but it doesn’t go far enough, and we need a more permanent solution than one-time state deputizing…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000445126898 Mel Rupp

    Which is why I’m an ordained Dudeist Priest.
    http://dudeism.com/ordination

  • http://twitter.com/sourblaze David

    Stev84 is right. Get gov’t out of the marriage business once and for all. Make some rules/definitions people have to play by (no marrying close relatives or extremely underage partners), fair enough.