Religion Has Monopoly On Marriage

May 28, 2009

Picture taken by Reba Boyd Wooden at a same-sex committment ceremony held at CFI Indiana.

When a couple wants to get married, they have to obtain a marriage license from a government office. Then in all   50 states (DC is an exception) they are required to have an authorized person "solemnize" the marriage.  This means that a second person who is authorized by the state probably performs some kind of ceremony but most importantly signs the marriage license. 

In 25 states only a religious clergyperson can solemnize a marriage, in 21 states it can either be a religious clergyperson or certain designated judicial officials, in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin it can be either a clergyperson or the couple themselves (although in Wisconsin for a couple to do it themselves it must be in accordance with the practices of a religious group), in Massachusetts a representative of the Ethical Culture Society in addition to a clergy person or certain judicial officials may do the honors, and in the District of Columbia unsigned marriage licenses are valid.  There are exceptions such as in Indiana a member of the Indiana Bar Association can be deputized in order to sign a license and I have heard of other arrangements that will work in various states.

It is my opinion that once a couple (same sex or opposite sex) obtains a marriage license and they both sign it in the presence of an official, they should have all the legal rights that come with traditional marriage.  Call it a Civil Union, Civil Marriage, or whatever. Then if that couple wants to have a public ceremony in the presence of their friends and family, want to have the union blessed by a priest, or sanctioned by their religious clergy, that is fine but it should not be required in order to have a legal contract between them. 

The present marriage laws in most states present a problem for a couple who do not want a religious ceremony.  Unless they are personally acquainted with someone who has the legal standing to satisfy the law, they are reduced to an impersonal cermony in a government setting.  These officials are usually not available to do marriage ceremonies at the place and time of the couple’s choosing. 

Persons with religious affiliations can have their clergyperson who shares their views and with whom they probably have a personal relationship officiate their ceremony.  Also, some couples want a person who has a neutral stance when the families of the couple are of different faiths.  This leads to my point that there is a need for "secular celebrants" to be recognized by state law.  Granting the religious the privilege of choosing their celebrant while denying this privilege to those who are not affiliated or desire a "neutral" celebrant is arguably unconstitutional.

Yes, people get around these laws by getting online "mail order" ordinations or from some religious organization.  This in most cases makes a mockery of the religious requirement plus people should not be forced to go to these measures against their convictions. 

We at CFI need to formulate a program for certifying "secular celebrants" and work to get the laws changed to accept them as authorized persons to solemnize marriages.  I approached several members of the Indiana State Legislature this year about sponsoring a bill to change Indiana’s law.  Though a few said they would vote in favor if it and were in agreement, none were willing to sponsor the bill.   Legal action may be necessary to get this accomplished.



#1 Megan on Thursday May 28, 2009 at 5:07pm

Well said, as usual, Reba!

#2 Scott (Guest) on Thursday May 28, 2009 at 7:55pm

I was married in McLean County, Illinois and had a friend with no ordination or judicial appointment ‘officiate’ the ceremony.  The county clerk never asked for any sort of official documentation or anything.  It was pretty much a no-questions asked deal.  His signature is on the certificate and is fully legal. 

Anyone else have a similar story?  Or did my partner and I just get lucky with a clerk that didn’t bother to check for official documentation?

#3 Theresa (Guest) on Friday May 29, 2009 at 9:23am

I had no idea that 25 states had only religious solemnizations. That is just bizarre. Not only is it offensive to non-religious people, it puts clergy (most likely liberal ones who would be willing to marry a non-religious couple) in an uncomfortable position of solemnizing a marriage as a favor because they’re the only game in town. Not really in keeping with the spirit of “solemnity.”

I agree that solemnization should be unnecessary after the marriage license is obtained. It seems like an archaic way of getting engaged and married couples under church surveillance.

#4 Beth OBrien (Guest) on Friday May 29, 2009 at 10:54pm

In Australia we have a system where secular civil ceremonies actually dominate the weddings that happen, we perform 60% of all ceremonies.  As civil celebrants we have the legal ability to marry couples anywhere they choose.  In 2003 the Federal government made it compulsory for new incoming celebrants to be trained in a national training program.  From talking with American Wedding Officiants I believe it will happen over time that USA will be more open in its thinking on this topic.  We have had this system in Australia for 32 years.

Beth OBrien
Australian Celebrations Training

#5 Faithwalker (Guest) on Saturday May 30, 2009 at 12:50pm

So much ado about nothing.  If the law says only a man and a woman can legally marry, then perhaps the answer is to pass another law all together so that same sex marriages can be honored under a different standard.  This would address the problems of all of the gay couples who feel that marriage is necessary for legal issues, etc.

I continue to be amazed at the number of gay individuals who are accepted into Christian churchs, even so far as the ministry when there are scriptures that clearly refer to the couple, same sex ‘Sex’ as an abomination in the eyes of the Jewish and Christian God.  Clearly same sex ‘Sex’ is not acceptable in the Bible. 

It seems a simple adjustment to make.  A God who would welcome gay couples, seems a reasonable God to adopt.  If their lifestyle is contrary to the laws of nature, and scripture, then they should agree that they need to have a God of their own making.  If God does not enter into their individual equation and philosophy, then perhaps a separate law, which does not negate the belief in the Christian God and the Bible which is believed to be Truth.  Just an alternative solution to the present situation. Elizabeth

#6 ski-dc (Guest) on Monday June 01, 2009 at 2:27pm

The “First Church of Athiesm” allows people to register as legally ordained ministers for FREE!  Check out their website at:

#7 ski-dc (Guest) on Monday June 01, 2009 at 2:29pm

Sorry, I guess they thought I was advertising something.  The site is one word—first church of athiesm (dot) com.  (

#8 Reba Boyd Wooden on Monday June 01, 2009 at 4:10pm

But it must be registered as a religious organization or else a person could not sign marraige licenses.  So—is is like the other online, mail-order ordinations.  We need to get laws passed that would let a secular celebrant sign and not have to be posing as a religion.

#9 Clothing on Wednesday June 17, 2009 at 2:21pm

How Does Religion Have a Monopoly on “Marriage” and Since When is the US a Theocracy?

Isn’t that the same as discriminating against someone based on their ethnicity/ skin color?

What’s next, will the US make interracial marriage illegal?

Will the US make marriage between people of two different religions illegal?

Maybe blondes won’t be able to marry brunettes? or blue eyed people can’t marry green eyed people?wedding

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