DC’s Marriage Law a Milestone for Nonbelievers’ Equality, Says Center for Inquiry

August 6, 2013

Nonreligious couples in the District of Columbia may now be married in a ceremony solemnized by a Secular Celebrant, thanks to Mayor Vincent Gray’s signing today of the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2013. The new law allows secular couples to choose a temporary “Civil Celebrant” who, for the purposes of the ceremony, is given the authority to solemnize a marriage between two persons who opt not to be married under the auspices of a church, or default to a mere “city hall” union.

The Center for Inquiry, an international organization which champions science, reason, and secular values, heralded the law’s signing as a key milestone in the march toward full social equality for America’s fastest-growing belief group: the nonreligious.

“The tide of history is turning in the direction of marriage equality, and not just in regard to who may get married to whom, but also to who is empowered to perform the marriage itself,” said Ronald A. Lindsay, the group’s president and CEO. “CFI has long championed the rights of nonreligious couples to have the choice of a wedding officiant that reflects their values and worldview, without being forced to compromise those principles with a church-affiliated ceremony or a pro forma act by a government functionary. Secular Celebrants, officially empowered to solemnize marriages, offer that choice, and give atheist, agnostic, and humanist couples the chance to have a truly meaningful ceremony.”

In the state of Indiana, CFI is waging legal battle to overturn the state’s unconstitutional privileging of religious institutions in solemnizing marriages, which denies those who prefer a nonreligious or humanist wedding from having their union made official by a Secular Celebrant. In 2012, Indiana’s federal district court upheld the prohibition against secular officiants, CFI appealed the ruling, and now awaits a new decision. (More here.) CFI offers training for would-be Secular Celebrants to perform wedding ceremonies.

“We thank the City Council and Mayor of the District of Columbia for enacting this important law,” added Lindsay. “We hope to see more measures like this in states across the country, so nonreligious Americans can have their rights affirmed by their representatives, rather than having no choice but to fight for those rights in the courts, as we are now in Indiana.”


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