July 15, 2014 — TheStatehouseFile.com
INDIANAPOLIS – A federal appeals court ruled Monday that Indiana can’t prevent officials from The Humanist Society from conducting marriages in the state and urged lawmakers to allow notaries to do so as well.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit declared Indiana’s law limiting who can perform marriage ceremonies unconstitutional.
It ordered the state to allow certified secular humanist celebrants to conduct marriages. A humanist celebrant is one who conducts humanist, nonreligious, and interreligious weddings, according to The Humanist Society.
“As the court noted, the First Amendment demands neutrality,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. “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.”
Indiana law currently allows only certain civic leaders – including mayors and clerks, along with clergy and people authorized to perform marriages for their religion – to conduct weddings. The appeals court urged the state to allow notaries to do so as well.
Monday’s ruling reversed a decision made in November 2012 by U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker in which the statute was ruled constitutional.
The state is evaluating its appeal options.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said his office is considering its appeal options.
“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,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller.
The Secular Celebrant program at the Center for Inquiry – a humanist organization that provides a belief structure comparable to religion – trains participants to conduct weddings in accordance with the center’s beliefs. It believes in fostering a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values where the fundamental rights of individuals are respected.
The center does not oppose the free exercise of religion.
“This is a big step forward in recognizing the rights of nonreligious persons,” said Center for Inquiry Executive Director Reba Wooden. “Now couples may have a secular celebrant, who shares their world view, solemnize their marriage.”
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