Atheists Can Now Perform Wedding Ceremonies… in Tulsa, Oklahoma May 1, 2011

Atheists Can Now Perform Wedding Ceremonies… in Tulsa, Oklahoma

If you’re getting married in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, it’s now legal to have an atheist conduct the ceremony!

I know we have Humanist Celebrants who can do this already, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been approved as “the equivalent of an ordaining organization.”

You don’t even need the Universal Life Church anymore…

State law says marriages must be performed by a judge or retired judge, or by an ordained or authorized preacher, minister or priest, or other ecclesiastical dignitary authorized by the church, or a rabbi. State law also makes provisions for religious groups that do not have ordained ministers, such as Quakers and Mormons.

[Coordinator of the Tulsa Coalition of Reason Bill] Dusenberry said when he contacted the state about it, he was told Oklahoma has county option on who may conduct weddings, so he went to the county.

Jason Jones, supervisor of the Family Division in the Court Clerk’s Office, said the three Freedom From Religion Foundation applicants presented letters stating they had met that organization’s requirements for performing marriages.

“That’s good enough for us to issue the license,” Jones said. “We don’t police that.”

Dusenberry said the Freedom from Religion Foundation has developed an application process for prospective celebrants that includes such requirements as having read 10 free-thought books; reading a newspaper or news magazine regularly; traveling outside Oklahoma at least three times; and being in love at least three times. He said the requirements are flexible.

The application process also includes a multiple-choice test that asks about the reliability of Fox News, and whether the Bible is ancient mythology, among other things.

I love that. It’s not all that serious of an application, as it shouldn’t be. The notion that someone has the “power” to wed a couple is silly. But since you do have to jump through a few hoops, FFRF wants to make sure you’re an ethical, educated person who’s experienced life.

Here’s the actual “examination” for prospective celebrants (PDF):

Tulsa County FFRF Celebrant Candidate Application

To apply to become a “Tulsa County FFRF Celebrant” a Celebrant candidate must:

(a) Be a member of FFRF;

(b) Be a college graduate, or, over 25-years of age;

(c) Have read ten “freethought-related” books acceptable to the FFRF Celebrant Committee

(d) Demonstrate an awareness of Oklahoma marriage laws and regulations.

(e) Pass a “Tulsa County FFRF Celebrant” examination;

(f) Read a daily newspaper, or weekly news magazine, on a regular basis;

(g) Never have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude;

(h) Have been in love, at least three times;

(i) Have been self-sufficient, for at least three years;

(j) Have traveled outside of Oklahoma, at least three times;

(k) Be familiar with at least three different religious/philosophical organizations;

Couples applying to be married, by a “Tulsa County FFRF Celebrant” must:

(a) Submit and discuss, with the Celebrant, the couples combined income-based budget;

(b) Promise to not allow any of their children to be religiously or philosophically brainwashed;

(c) Be at least, 25-years of age; or, college graduates; or, be able to convince the FFRF Celebrant that both members requesting the marriage, have obtained adult maturity.

(d) Agree to a ‘comprehensive’ prenuptial agreement

You can disagree about certain points there, but the main thing to note is that it’s easy for most atheists to “pass” the test and it means that an atheist couple getting married doesn’t have to get a religious person to conduct their ceremony — and they don’t have to search high and low for a Humanist Celebrant.

They can get an atheist friend to stand-in for all those roles.

It’s a loophole that needed to be exploited and kudos to the Tulsa FFRF chapter for making that happen.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Letter H is completely stupid. Must be in love at least three times? What if you married your high school sweetheart and have only ever been in love once? Why is the more people you’ve been in love with the better? Isn’t that a little more polygamous than monogamous? Or do they not actually understand the concept of love and count crushes, sexual relations failed relationships etc. In that case I’d be out as well. I’ve only been in love with one person in my whole life but I could easily pass all of the other criteria.

  • dwasifar

    Combined income-based budget? WTF?

  • TychaBrahe

    I agree with the been-in-love part, but the idea of having an income based budget is that the couple is adult, sensible, and prepared to live within their means. If you can’t budget, you shouldn’t be tying someone else to your life filled with impending debt.

  • Erp

    That actually brings up the question of pre-marital counseling. What type of counseling should a couple get before marrying? Legal, economic, psychological, other.

  • Beckster

    It seems they are saying only college-educated upper middle class yuppies should get married.

  • Lauren S.

    I understand the having a requirement to not be religious since it is an atheist celebrant, but the other requirements for couples makes my skin squirm.

    as believer in choice and a autonomy, those who wish to be married should be able to do it.

    I find this whole thing bizarre as in my state ANYONE can go to the county and get authorization to perform a Wedding. I’ve had a few friends marry other friends. they have not belonged to churches, counseled couples, or had to live up to any requirements by an organization like FFRF.

    It is much nicer that way. Everyone involved is then friends and family. You shouldn’t have to bring in a stranger to make it official.

  • Lauren S.

    Actually I take back my acceptance of the atheist requirement as well. what if one person in the couple is religious? the other should be subjected to a religious ceremony or they will have to settle for the courthouse?

  • I realize atheists wish to make a good impression, but some of this smacks of the elitism of which our community is so often accused. Combined income budgets don’t apply to all couples as some keep their finances separate. Age and education requirements for marriage? Prenups a must? I’d rather see a preference for pre-marital counselling, where things like this could be worked out and agreed upon at the couple’s discretion. I just don’t see a freedom of choice for the couple and for an atheist ceremony, that really rubs me the wrong way.

    As far as pastors go, the “been in love three times” is just silly. This is a step in the right direction, but it’d be nice to see people able to choose an atheist friend to marry them without relying on the Universal Life Church.

  • Damien

    Forcing my wife and I to draft a prenup before being allowed to have our wedding by an atheist? No, not happening. We’ve been happily married for ten years and, while it may be the prudent thing to do, a prenuptial contract starts things off on a bad footing. Call me naive but I’m of the strong opinion that if you need to draft marital contingency plans you really shouldn’t be getting married to start with.

    As for the “in love 3 times” rule? I guess I’m disqualified. I met the woman of my dreams when we were 11 and we got married the day after we graduated from college. I guess the entirety of our 23 years together, of our discoveries of love and passion and family together, means we’re not experienced enough to bless other unions.

    This whole thing may be in the right spirit but under those restrictions I’d still say screw it and hire a judge to officiate.

  • Rabid

    Did any of you complaining do more than actually skim this article.
    The examination is not for “prospective couples”. It’s for “celebrants”, the people applying for the power to marry a couple.

    Reading comprehension, fellow athiests?

    As for clause (h), it doesn’t define love or even add the qualifier “WITH A PERSON”.
    I mean seriously, this is not some kind of Gestapo interrogation.
    Married your childhood sweetheart and want to marry your friends in a Godless ceremony?

    1. I love my wife.
    2. I love pizza.
    3. I love lamp.

    You’re done. Go to it.

  • My favorite point is to, “Promise to not allow any of their children to be religiously or philosophically brainwashed.” Childhood indoctrination is disgusting.

    With three boys and married to an active Mormon, I do what I can to inoculate my children against childhood indoctrination.

  • Holly

    I’m afraid this makes us all seem a bit ridiculous to people who already don’t have the highest opinion of atheists. Most of these rules seem as silly to me as the religious ones.

  • Larry Meredith

    @Rabid
    I agree about the (h) part. It was obvious to me that you could claim to love any 3 things, not just people.

    but apparently you’re the one who’s comprehensively challenged if you didn’t see an examination of the couple:

    Couples applying to be married, by a “Tulsa County FFRF Celebrant” must:

  • Todd

    We were married by a judge in Tulsa and, given the criteria above, I think we’d do it again.

  • Rich Wilson

    “(f) Read a daily newspaper, or weekly news magazine, on a regular basis;”

    I know it doesn’t specify ‘in print’, but that’s still the image that pops into my mind. How 1990s!

  • Jan

    Where I live a marriage consists of 3 parts where only the first one is legally necessary:

    1. the couple is married by the town mayor in a non-religious ceremony
    2. the couple goes to a church for a religious ceremony
    3. party

    Atheists simply skip the second part. And it is actually illegal for a priest to do the second part if the first part is not done. There are a lot of things wrong in my country but I think that this is not one of them.

  • CanadianNihilist

    Wow that’s a lot of bullshit to go through. What businesses of anybodies but the two getting marries is it.
    I don’t care if a persons:

    a college graduate, or, over 25-years of age (why can’t a mature 23 year old marry without having to prove their-selves to anyone?)
    Have read ten “freethought-related” books acceptable to the FFRF Celebrant Committee (thought police much, If you want to get married in a church are you forced to read a bunch of new earth creationist books?)

    … You know what, I was going to go on about being in love a set number of times and leaving the area a set number, but I think they’re all stupid.

    I never thought I would side with the “Atheism is a religion” people but this Freedom From Religion Foundation is sure as hell putting that image foreword. Apparently being free from religion means you have to join a club and think like they do while reading books they approve of and living your life in a way that they deem as acceptable. Including, but not limited to, control over your love life and travel plans.

    It’s been a while since I’ve been as offended by Atheists as I have by fundamentalists.

    I’m an ordained Minister/Reverend, (Yes I know the Irony) and I would never make someone pass a test to get married. Avoid the jumping through hoops and just get a judge to do it. Or a token Minister who doesn’t give a shit how you live your life.

  • Emma

    My husband and I are atheist, and we were married at 20, by a judge in Mississippi. Neither of us have been in love with anyone else, and although it bothered me that the word “God” was still in the judge’s script, I think that this is a little absurd. I originally wanted a friend to get ordained and marry us because it’s more meaningful that way, and I think most people would agree. We lived together for two years before we got married, which should count for pre-marital counseling. We also are not going to force our children to not be religious. We are going to expose them to everything out there and let them come to their own conclusions. I agree with whoever said that these qualifications are of the elitist scope and do not do much for atheist acceptance and equality.

  • Nakor

    @Rich: Oh good, I was beginning to think that I was the only one who would raise an eyebrow at that. (Okay, okay, mostly I wanted to snark at it. :P)

    Besides, I don’t follow any (individual) news source online either. I use Google News at the moment with some set searches to get news from all over the spectrum. Easier to get balanced news that way.

  • Harold

    @CN:

    Those are the requirements for becoming an FFRF “celebrant”; you want the ones at the bottom for getting married by one. I’m not mad about C; I know college grads who are far less mature than people who skipped it, or did went to a vocational school (would an American call that “college”? We call “college” “university”, and call community and vocational schools “colleges”).

  • Annie

    Here in Florida, you only have to be a notary to have the “power” to marry people. Many people will choose a favorite relative or friend, pay for the notary license, and tada! they have their celebrant. It doesn’t require much here… a three hour course and about $120 in fees. I haven’t looked, but I doubt there is any religious qualification to be a notary.

  • JenV

    Had a nice, secular wedding in the judge’s chamber. No mention of god, no rules or obligations (save the marriage license fee, and the judge’s insistence on a tip for the cleaning ladies who were our witnesses), and done. Voila.

    Not to sound trite, but that list is stupid.

  • Dave B

    I was married by a religious minister. He gave us some sample ceremonies he had typed up, and we returned a much shorter one with no mention of god and several other tweaks. He never asked us to rebut the assumption that we were children or had us pass any tests, sign any documents that weren’t strictly necessary or promise to raise children according to his wishes. It’s not his business how we choose to live our lives. I’d go with a religious minister like him over an FFRF celebrant if those are the rules.

  • Miko

    The notion that someone has the “power” to wed a couple is silly.

    In the European common law tradition, many marriages were established informally by cohabiting for a set period of time. Given changing norms regarding cohabitation outside of marriage (and inside of marriage), giving certain people the power to officially recognize marriages is not a bad idea. The problem comes when someone has the power to refuse to recognize a marriage (in the sense of not respecting their marriage contract, not in the sense of refusing to perform a ceremony).

    Lissa:

    Letter H is completely stupid. Must be in love at least three times? What if you married your high school sweetheart and have only ever been in love once?

    Marry your high school sweetheart, get a dog, and have a child. And *poof* you’ve been in love three times. It’s a silly requirement, but it isn’t hard to fulfill.

    Lauren S.:

    I understand the having a requirement to not be religious since it is an atheist celebrant, but the other requirements for couples makes my skin squirm.

    as believer in choice and a autonomy, those who wish to be married should be able to do it.

    Choice runs both ways. You (should) have the choice to marry whoever you want, but the person you want to marry you has a choice of whether they want to do it or not too, so in principle they have the right to impose any rules that they want. Whether these particular rules are good or not is an entirely separate question. But they aren’t the only marriage-granters in town.

    Enchilada:

    Age and education requirements for marriage?

    I think you misread that part: it’s age OR education requirements. And it’s negotiable. Really, it’s getting at independence/emancipation: the goal is to make sure that the people involved have been living on their own long enough to fully understand the ramifications of their decision.

    Damien:

    We’ve been happily married for ten years and, while it may be the prudent thing to do, a prenuptial contract starts things off on a bad footing. Call me naive but I’m of the strong opinion that if you need to draft marital contingency plans you really shouldn’t be getting married to start with.

    I’d argue exactly the opposite. A marriage is really just a legal contract anyway, so I don’t see how it’s more romantic to say “Oh, yes, let’s enter into a legally-binding contract, but only if it’s poorly written.” The pre-nup has a bad rep since it’s traditionally used by the rich for stupid financial reasons, but all it is in principle is a recognition that those being married have thought ahead of time about how they want to live together.

    CanadianNihilist:

    (why can’t a mature 23 year old marry without having to prove their-selves to anyone?)

    How do you distinguish a mature 23 year old from an immature 23 year old? Oh right, by having them prove themselves to someone.

  • CanadianNihilist

    How do you distinguish a mature 23 year old from an immature 23 year old? Oh right, by having them prove themselves to someone.

    Why do people in love that want be be with each other need to prove anything at all?

  • CW

    It does seem some people missed that those are the requirements for the person performing the ceremony that are particularly… um, elitist, but the ones on the couple aren’t perfect either.

    I don’t understand why there would need to be requirements for this sort of thing, but I imagine it has to do with the application process in this state? I can see how it would be awkward to draft this as an atheist organization, but comparing 25 years of age to “college educated” is just kind of… really bad sounding. And ten books? Honestly, I read that and think, “Ugh, some of the things my semi-religious father stereotypes atheists as…”

    I’m pretty sure where I live you can have anyone perform the ceremony if they get certified (as mentioned above), which seems the most reasonable thing to me. In this state, however, this might be a major step forward. I respect it for that.

  • Alt+3

    I meet almost all of those requirements except for the being in love three times part. I don’t think I’ve been on a date three times.

  • Beryl

    Encouraging antenuptial (premarital) agreements *does* worry me. Mostly, they’re a means to protect the wealth of the financially stronger party. Not every couple wants to do that. The only thing that couples in general might want to consider is a mediation clause if they should end up divorcing.

    This, combined with the “requirement” that celebrants be financially self-sufficient (no stay-at-home mothers?) suggests a take on gender roles that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

  • Jeremiah

    I live in tulsa and I was completely all for this. WAS that is until i read the requirements for people getting married. I understand having guidelines set up for the people that are officiating those marriages. But to be honest, Our budget is none of anyones F*&#^#g business, our kids are going to be told the truth about religion but are going to be loved no matter what they believe in so no promises there, the age thing doesn’t apply to me but if two young people in this city are able to decide they want a non religious ceremony.. they are plenty mature and probably have been ostracized by their families, and again how we want to conduct our lives after the marriage is completely none of you business so it shouldn’t matter to you if there’s a pre-nup or not. If we want to believe in love and give it a go you should celebrate that fact, you ARE free thinkers… right? When I first heard of this development a month ago I was seriously considering this option, now i’m just going to ask a priest or a judge to read my prepared wedding ceremony instead. Way to make a great thing just like a religious thing… “do it our way or go to hell (read: not get married)” Edit: My donations are coming round again and I’ll speak with my wallet this time, the Tulsa FRFF won’t be getting my money again this year.

  • Dark Jaguar

    If all those requirements really are a joke and “loose” means they are never enforced at all, I’m all for it. Otherwise…

    My only requirements for a “celebrant” would be that they perform a secular ceremony and don’t bring up god during the wedding. I notice that there’s nothing in it that specifies that exact behavior. I don’t even care if the celebrant themselves is religious, so long as they are sworn to keep it to themselves during the ceremony. My only requirement for the couple would be that they meet the legal requirements of marriage that they need to meet.

    That said, I’m FROM Tulsa, OK, so I do understand where some of this is coming from. About the most accepted way to come out as an atheist is comedic. If you have a sense of humor about it, you’re generally accepted a lot quicker, and the more self deprecating, the better. There’s also the notion that the FFRF is trying to give an image that they are moral, and so these rules are attempting to allay fears that these atheists are just “stamping people right on through”, even though technically judges already do that.

    I think if they really wanted to have an extra requirement that lets them work above and beyond, I’d just add this for both of them. Require an interview of some sort. That’s it. The specific rules are often silly. Is there a particular reason why a person marrying two people has to have been in love? Yes, I do get the idea that “understanding love” is a virtue and all, but some people, not naming names here, are on another axis completely and have never even had a crush on someone, yet still are able to sympathize and appreciate love and want to help those who do get involved.

    Again, if all those requirements are really just jokes they never intend to really enforce, then it’s fine. Otherwise, it’s a bit much and far too specific. Also, yes, it doesn’t appreciate those living in the poorer rungs of society where things like a college education simply aren’t an option, ever.

  • Aimee

    Hmmm…

    Well, In Colorado you can officiate your own wedding. That’s what I did. And its free and had no requirements with it whatsoever except that you be over 18. Huh, imagine that. I also got married at 20 to my 19 year old atheist husband. We lived with his parents for a year before he joined the military. I can’t help but feel rather miffed that our relationship would not have qualified us for a FFRF wedding. But I have the good fortune to live in Colorado, not Oklahoma. Still, I think every state should have marriage laws like CO. And also allow for gay marriages of course.

  • Bonnie

    I live in Oklahoma City. My son was married in 2007 and they found who they thought was a ‘secular’ pastor. An hour before the wedding, she tried to convert them both to christianity. In order to avoid that with my daughter, they were married in the courthouse 2 days before the wedding. (We didn’t want to ask anyone to have to be ordained by any religious organization.) My sis-in-law performed a non-theist ceremony. I’ve had several long discussions with officials in two Oklahoma counties regarding the absurdity of the laws here. Though the requirements may be rather strict, I applaud the group for pushing to allow another choice in flaming-red Oklahoma.

  • Jonas

    Ironically for a ‘Jewish Atheist’ and an ex-Catholic, we were married by an evangelical minister. — With a Humanist for a best man, and an atheist for a lead groomsman. However our ceremony WAS NOT jewish, or Catholic. — But something we put together, and meaningful for us.

    Had our minister, (who was a close friend of mine) not been willing to do the ceremony as we wanted to, I’d have had no problem either having a friend do it, or a justice of the peace. In our state, like several others anyone can get a one day license to perform a wedding.

    Even with our minister performing the ceremony, we had a very subtle nod to the Quaker practice of having a community of well wishers, and not a single individual ‘perform’ the ceremony.

  • I agree with everyone who said the FFRF’s list is both overspecific and a elitist. That said, if a local secular organization wanted to put together criteria for ordaining their own celebrants, what criteria would be worthwhile?