Secular Celebrants Are Finally on the Verge of Being Able to Solemnize Marriages in Oregon

Oregon, much like Illinois and Indiana circa not-that-long-ago, doesn’t allow Secular Celebrants to solemnize weddings. If a priest officiates your wedding, you’re golden, but if a Secular Celebrant does it, you still need validation from a judge. In Illinois and Indiana, atheists had to file lawsuits to change the law.

When legislators tried to change the law in Oregon a couple of years ago, the bill got hung up over the definition of a “secular organization” and didn’t get anywhere… but a new bill — House Bill 2113 — clears up that confusion by defining the term as “an organization that occupies a place in the lives of the organization’s members parallel to that filled by a church or particular religious authority.”

With that out of the way, HB 2113 is on the brink of adding Secular Celebrants to the list of people who can solemnize marriages.

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Here’s what the relevant portion of the law would look like if the bill passes (the bold changes are literally in the bill):

All persons wishing to enter into a marriage contract shall obtain a marriage license from the county clerk upon application, directed to any person, [or] religious organization or congregation, or secular organization, authorized by ORS 106.120 to solemnize marriages, and authorizing the person, religious organization or congregation, or secular organization, to join together as spouses in a marriage the persons named in the license.

It’s just that simple.

The bill also says that a marriage is valid if the person officiating the wedding is discovered later to not have proper credentials. As long as “the parties to the marriage believed in good faith that the marriage was lawfully solemnized,” they’re golden.

The Oregon House passed the bill back in March, 39-21, and it narrowly passed in the Senate yesterday 17-13. Since the state’s Governor is Democrat Kate Brown, passage of the bill seems all but assured.

The Secular Coalition for Oregon and Secular Coalition for America are thrilled by this development:

“The passage of this bill is a victory for nonreligious couples in Oregon who can now have their marriages officiated in a way that recognizes and celebrates who they are,” said Brian Harvey, Chair of the Secular Coalition for Oregon. “A wedding is among the most deeply meaningful and uniquely personal occasions that we come together to celebrate. The nearly one-third of Oregonians who are nonreligious must no longer worry about compromising their beliefs when commemorating their special day.

“By empowering secular celebrants to solemnize marriages, lawmakers have sent a powerful message that Oregon is a state which values inclusion and celebrates religious diversity,” said Larry T. Decker, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “The nonreligious are now the largest and fastest growing religious demographic in the country. All states should follow Oregon’s lead and ensure their nonreligious residents have an equal opportunity to celebrate weddings which reflect their secular values. We are incredibly proud of the work our Oregon chapter did to fight for this legislation and help ensure its passage.”

It’s about damn time. This never should have been an issue to begin with, but it’s really unexpected in a place like Oregon. Kudos to State Rep. Mitch Greenlick and State Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward — both Democrats — for sponsoring this legislation.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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