Why is CFI Challenging the Indiana Statute Which Specifies Who Can Solemnize Marriages?

December 5, 2012

Why is CFI challenging the Indiana statute which specifies who can solemnize marriages? The most important reason for bringing this case is that it has wider implications. It, in the big picture, is standing up for equal rights for nonbelievers. It is not just about who can solemnize a marriage.

 I just went to a notary and got mine solemnized. My brother(friend, etc.) just went online and got ordained as a minister and he/she solemnized ours. Glad that is not a problem in my state. What is wrong with Indiana? Why can't people just have a civil official do it? Atheists don't want a religious wedding anyway so the civil official is OK. Who wants to get married anyway? Marriage is a legal contract why can't a lawyer just do it? The Humanist Society has a program to certify Humanist Celebrants and they can solemnize marriages in any state so why did CFI create their own program to certify Secular Celebrants? Humanists did that years ago. There is no need for the CFI program. Atheists/Secular Humanists, etc.don't want ritual and ceremony. Shouldn't that whole solemnization step just be done away with? Why can't the license which is the legal contract be enough? Why require the second step? That should be left up to the couple if they want a ceremonial ritual of some kind but should not be a requirement for the marriage to be legal.

I have heard all of these arguments and more from people in the Atheist/Secular Humanist/ Freethought world. Federal Judge Sarah Evans Barker said in her decision to dismiss our case:


In fact, 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. --page 9


Presently, our Secular Celebrants use the first avenue. This is legal and if the couple does not mind taking the two step process, that can be done. However, why should they have to do this when a religious person can go to their clergy and take care of it all in one process. Granted, some couples are satisfied with using the civil route only and that is fine if that is their preference. However, for a couple who wants a more personalized wedding in front of their friends and family that is not satisfactory to them. We refuse to use avenues two and three because it is our stance that we should not have to work under a religious designation.

We consider The Humanist Society to be a very fine organization with Humanist Celebrants certified to perform the type of ceremony that the couple desires. Being pragmatic, I solemnized over fifty weddings in Indiana when I was certified by The Humanist Society. I saw this as a way I could provide this service to couples not wanting religious weddings but wanting more than just a civil ceremony. However, it is my opinion and the opinion of CFI, that we are Secular Humanists and we should not have to declare ourselves a religious organization in order to have the same right to solemnize marriages as do religious clergy. So, in 2009 we launched a program to train and certify Secular Celebrants.

I have tried to discuss and explain the arguments put forth in the first paragraph of this blog many times to many people in person, comments on blog posts, etc. It seems to be more complicated for people to understand than I ever imagined. 

I won't try to address all of these issues in this blog, but will tackle a few of them. Indiana is not the only state where this is a problem. Our Secular Celebrants cannot solemnize a marriage just under our certification in any state in the union while religious clergy can in all states. Some states have easy ways for our Secular Celebrants to do it under a civil designation and other variations. Most do not. Because we are trying to make a case against religious privilege, we do not allow our Secular Celebrants to solemnize a marriage under any religious designation.

True, athiests/Secular Humanists, etc. generally see less need for ritual than religious people. However, we feel that we should be able to offer it to those who do. Personally, I would agree that the solemnization step should not be a part of making a marriage legal. The license should be enough. Then if the couple wants it solemnized by their personal religious clergy or by a secular person, that is fine. That would be their personal option. However, that is not the case today in any state. Sometimes change has to come in baby steps.If religious people can have their clergy make their marriage legal then secular people should be able to have a representative of their secular community do so.

The most important reason for bringing this case is that it has wider implications. It, in the big picture, is standing up for equal rights for nonbelievers. It is not just about who can solemnize a marriage. The notice of appeal was filed today to the United States Court of appeals for the Seventh Circuit by our lead attorney, Kenneth J. Falk, ACLU of Indiana.  It will probably be more than a year before the final outcome in known. 

 

Summary of Decision by Judge Sarah Evans Barker, United States Distric Court, Southern District of Indiana

[The complete document is 30 pages long.  I have picked out statements that I think are the major statements against our case.]

In fact, 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. - page 9

the remedy CFI seeks . . . implies a claim to vindicate positive rights rather than to restrain government action," and, consequently, is not a true Establishment Clause claim.-page 11

At least two of the plaintiffs (Ms. Landrum and Mr. Kiel) also believe that the statute forecloses their ability to wed in a single ceremony. (expressing the couple's desire not "to have to go before a clerk to make [the] marriage legal . . . and then have to go to [Ms. Wooden]" for another ceremony). Further, Plaintiffs contend, Indiana's Solemnization Statute denies non-religious couples the ability to marry without "limitations on time and place ceremonies may occur" or "the governmental overtone that the [secular solemnizing] official's presence carries.

These allegations are, if not slightly disingenuous, unsupported by the evidence of record. -page 17

But we must gently remind Plaintiffs that the Free Exercise Clause is not a guarantee against inconvenience. Similarly, the Constitution does not obligate the State of Indiana to perform heroics to fashion Plaintiffs' ideal remedy. Pages 17-18

"[T]he Free Exercise Clause is written in terms of what the government cannot do to the individual, not in terms of what the individual can extract from the government." - page 18

"[L]ong before marriage was a civil institution regulated by any of the . . . States, it was a religious contract . . . . [B]ecause marriage as an institution owes its origins to religious roots, it is both natural and logical that when state government regulates entry into marriage, it accommodates those deep religious traditions." -page 19

government may accommodate religious groups' free exercise of various
traditions and practices. "[V]oluntary governmental accommodation of religion is not only permissible, but desirable.") -page 20

We fail to see how the Solemnization Statute poses a hint of a threat, let alone a real one. In our view, the State of Indiana is entitled to uphold the idea that marriage is not final upon issuance of a license. By permitting diverse religious groups to place their "stamp of approval" on marriages,
this statute preserves "the ability of religious organizations to define and carry out their religious missions." -page 21

Nothing about Indiana's statutory scheme would prompt a reasonable observer to interpret the Solemnization Statute as state-sanctioned endorsement of religious (over secular) marriage traditions. -page 21

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. -page 24

To rule otherwise "would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups . . .preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe." -page 24

This group has no "immutable characteristic determined solely by the accident of birth," ;moreover, it is not "saddled with such disabilities, or subjected to such a history of purposeful unequal treatment, or relegated to such a position of political powerlessness as to command extraordinary protection."-page 26

We have already determined that the Solemnization Statute does not arbitrarily discriminate on the basis of religion. -page 26

Laws aimed at accommodating religious practices need not "come[] packaged with benefits to secular entities." -page 28

 

 

 

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