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Appellate Judges Rule In Favor Of Secular Wedding Celebrants

Posted On July 15, 2014

By Mike Perleberg

(Chicago, Ill.) – Another ruling has been handed down regarding Indiana marriage law, but this time it does not relate to the ongoing battle over the legality of gay marriage.

Three judges on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that secular humanists can preside over and solemnize marriages in Indiana just as pastors, rabbis, other clergy, and elected officials do. The ruling overturned the decision of a lower court judge last November.

The lawsuit brought on by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana was originally filed in Marion County. It specifically sought to allow celebrants from the Center for Inquiry to perform a wedding ceremony.

According to the ACLU, the center is a humanist organization that provides a belief structure comparable to religion. CFI believes in fostering a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values in which the dignity and fundamental rights of all individuals are respected.

ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk lauded the ruling, repeating the court’s note that the First Amendment demands neutrality.

“This prevents the State of Indiana from doing what it attempted to do in this case-favor religion over a non-religious-based system of belief and morality that is equivalent to religion, except for a belief in God,” Falk said.

The circuit court panel recommended a statutory change to Indiana law that would allow a notary public to solemnize a marriage as certain other public officials currently can do. 

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller indicated his office might appeal Monday’s decision.

“My office has a duty to defend state laws the Legislature passed from lawsuits that private plaintiffs file, and we contended the Legislature’s requirements for determining who can solemnize a marriage for the purpose of filing a marriage license at the county clerk’s office were reasonable and included alternatives for couples without involving clergy. We will review the 7th Circuit’s decision to determine the options to appeal on this narrow but important question of state legislative authority,” Zoeller said.

CFI executive director Reba Boyd Wooden said the ruling is a big step forward in the rights of nonreligious persons.