CFI Indiana Fights for Right to Perform Weddings

CFI Indiana Fights for Right to Perform Weddings October 26, 2012

My friends at CFI Indiana have filed suit for the right of secular celebrants to perform weddings in that state, something the law forbids currently, and they recently had the oral arguments in the case. Under current law, marriages can only be performed by clergyman, a judge, a city or court clerk or a mayor. But the law even lists specific religions that can do it, including Quakers, Mormons, Muslims, Bahais and, for some reason, the German Baptist church. Indiana Public Radio has a report:

Under Indiana statute, marriage is essentially a two-step process. The state issues a marriage license and then it is solemnized. The state’s marriage statute spells out who can solemnize, including religious organizations and some elected officials. Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said the purpose of the statute is for the state to regulate marriage while accommodating religious groups and providing alternatives for non-religious organizations.

“Once you get beyond the contours of the historical accommodation we’re talking about, it’s pretty difficult to find a neutral rule that limits who can solemnize but still include CFI,” said Fisher.

So why limit who can solemnize them at all? Rather than just issuing a marriage license, the state should just declare them married when they sign the relevant papers. After that point, the couple can do any kind of ceremony they want to do, or none at all, with anyone they wish presiding over it. One of the coolest weddings I ever went to was performed by a gay librarian, but that was just the ceremony; the couple had already been legally married at the courthouse. That’s how it should be for everyone — the legal marriage and the ceremony should have nothing to do with one another.

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  • After that point, the couple can do any kind of ceremony they want to do, or none at all, with anyone they wish presiding over it.

    That’s what we did for Marriage2.0 – we got the paperwork done, then had a great big party and stood up and did the deed ourselves.

    Maybe that’s why it didn’t stick.

  • I have been a humanist celebrant, with credentials through the Universal Life Church (the ORIGINAL mail-order ordination!) and I have done about 36 weddings. All that is required for officiating under Washington State law is for the officiant to take an oath from the couple in front of two witnesses, with everyone signing the appropriate document.

    That is to say, it is nothing but a jurat. And in Maine, North Carolina and Florida, any notary public may take that jurat.

    Personally, I think the better fight would be to add this special jurat to the powers of state notaries. Then, once that is settled, strip it from clergy. If a minister wants to be a one-stop marriage broker, let him become a notary public.

  • matty1

    Hear, hear. The government has a legitimate interest in knowing who you want listed as next of kin for tax, inheritance etc. It does not have a legitimate interest in telling you how, or if, to celebrate that relationship.

  • steve84

    The problem isn’t that only clergy are allowed to perform legally valid weddings. The problem is that they are allowed to be involved in a civil legal contract at all (by notarizing the marriage license).

    It should be like in most of Europe where you get legally married at city hall either by signing some papers or have a ceremony performed by a government employee. Whatever ceremony you have afterwards (either secular or religious) has no legal significance whatsoever and must take place after the civil wedding.

  • dougmasson

    A bit of an aside, but state senator Steele has been trying without success for many years to amend the law to allow solemnization by members of the General Assembly, the Governor, and the Lt. Governor.


  • Chiroptera

    Rather than just issuing a marriage license, the state should just declare them married when they sign the relevant papers.

    It’s sort of like having a notary verify that it was you who signed the papers. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to require.

    But there is a solution that a whole heck of a lot of countries do. Sign the papers in front of the relevant state official after taking the relevant oaths, and the official will sign as well.

    In fact, a whole heck of a lot of countries allow the couple to make a ‘solemnization’ ceremony out of this; there could be a little room (a “chapel” if you will) set aside, and, in front of the relevant state official, the couple can recite their vows, so they can have their little ceremony, too.

    Then in the eyes of the law, they are married and that’s it.

    And then a whole heck of a lot of countries will allow the couple to solemnize their marriage in the religious establishment of their choice, but that is entirely up to them, and whether they do or not has absolutely no bearing on the legalities.

  • matty1

    My brother’s wedding in the Netherlands was brilliant because the requirements were so simple. The officiant asks each person if they accept the legal duties of marriage, they say yes, the couple and witnesses sign a form, that’s it. No ‘repeat after me’, no long ceremony just a simple legal procedure after which the rest of the day was about what they wanted.

  • I just find the attitude baffling, thinking about it. What should matter is the couple’s desire to get married, not the guy who handles the ceremonial trappings. They’re free adults, able to make their own decisions, not teenage commodities beholden to religious authorities. Just have the couple fill out the appropriate paperwork and celebrate the event however they like, with whichever speaker they like giving the ceremonial permission to kiss after the vows or whatever else they might want to do.

    It’s like encountering someone who seriously believes you must throw rice for whatever old superstitious rationale or else face the horrible consequences for throwing the pale imitation of birdseed. I don’t think the right to your desired marriage ceremony should be at the mercy of occultism.

  • marcus

    In Colorado you can have your marriage performed by civil or clerical officiants or you can do it yourselves. At the outset both parties appear in person at the county recorders office and show ID, upon completion of the ceremony the license is returned to the recorder properly signed with the appropriate boxes checked and the license is notarized and recorded. A very civilized secular procedure, no gods need be invoked.

  • John Hinkle

    So let me get this straight. For a marriage to be taken seriously, presumably at least one of the groups of “solemnizers” would be men wearing dresses and funny hats?

  • raven

    In a lot or maybe even most states, it’s a two step process. The important step is filing the paperwork with the state.

    The best weddings out here have been pagan, New Age, or secular ones. You just make up your own ceremony and spend most of the time as one big party.

    Not too expensive and not very formal.

  • Scott Hanley

    Man, for all the money I spent on these glasses, I should not be reading “The state issues a marriage license and then it is sodomized” on the page ….

  • fastlane

    Scott Hanley, I know some people who might want to party with you!! 😉

    My wife and I had our marriage officiated by our best friend, who, Like Gregory, got his ordination through the ULC. We wrote our own vows and ceremony, and had a very small ceremony…exactly the way we wanted it.

    After watching the travesty of several other friend’s ceremonies, I’m really glad we did.

    Good luck to CFI in this. I suspect if they get a judge that’s even a little reasonable, they will win. There’s no way the current law can stand up to scrutiny with all of the court precedent. If this one loses, I’ll definitely contribute to get it appealed.

  • Jeff D

    As an Indiana lawyer, as an atheist for 44+ years, and as one half of a couple who married nearly 31 years ago in the presence of a county court judge, I wonder whether it is the best use of CFI-Indiana and the Indiana CLU’s resources to be fighting this battle.

    So why limit who can solemnize them at all? Rather than just issuing a marriage license, the state should just declare them married when they sign the relevant papers. After that point, the couple can do any kind of ceremony they want to do, or none at all, with anyone they wish presiding over it.

    I agree that the above would be the optimal solution. For legal nerds who have to know, the current Indiana statute that lists the persons authorized to solemnize marraiges is Ind. Code 31-11-6-1, The sections that essentially require an authorized person to solemnize the marriage and to complete a “marriage certificate” for later filing are I.C. 31-11-4-13 through 31-11-4-17.

    I would rather not have the first-cited section amended or interpreted so that a secular or non-religious celebrant is on the list of authorized “solemnizers”; it could have give some folks the inaccurate impression that “secular” or “humanist” is a religious affiliation or a government position.

  • whheydt

    If Indiana *insists* on having official celebrants, they should just issue a license to anyone who wants to officiate at a wedding for a nominal fee (so it would be available to anyone the couple wanted as an inexpensive “one off” thing).

    Licensing would just be walk in, show proof of identity, fill out a form, pay the fee and be handed a pamphlet detailing the rules to be followed. If they wanted to be fancy about it, given the newly registered officiant an ID card stating that the State says he can conduct weddings.

    Let any clergy that want conduct wedding get a license just like anyone else.

    And, of course, the State *could* require that anyone that has been officially recognized as a wedding officiant is acting as an agent of the State and *must* marry *any* couple that can be legally married under state law on request…with revocation of license as the penalty for a refusal.

  • JustaTech

    From what I understand, in Mass you can get a one-day officiant licence. Some of my friends did that, having her brother officiate, rather than his mom, the Episcopal priest.

    I think it’s like a one-day liquor license.