More than four years ago, the Center For Inquiry sued Indiana over its marriage laws. The state permitted people of faith to be married by their religious leaders… while denying that same option for non-religious people who wanted their marriages performed by a “Secular Celebrant.”
This wasn’t a trivial thing. Atheists had the options of having a judge do it, or using someone certified by an online church, or having a Celebrant present for the ceremony even though it wouldn’t “count” unless a judge or online-certified priest signed the paperwork. But Secular Celebrants alone? Not allowed.
That should be sounding all the common sense alarms in your head, because it makes no sense at all. Indiana was basically saying someone who spent 10 minutes and a few bucks online had more of a right to “solemnize” your marriage than a Secular Celebrant who had extensive training in the matter — all because the former was done in the name of religion.
In 2014, after a defeat in a lower court, CFI appealed the ruling and won the case.
So last year, they began the process to win the same battle in Illinois.
The suit was brought forth by Galen Broaddus, a “certified secular celebrant trained by CFI” who was unable to offer his services to people in the state.
Galen, who also writes at Patheos, explained at the time how litigation was really the last option:
I’ve talked directly with two state senators and one state representative (two Republican and one Democrat) about fixing the inequity in the law, and every single one of them expressed their agreement on the issue. We were even able to move a bill through the state senate before the session ended and we ran out of time in the house.
Silly Galen… thinking Illinois legislators would ever get something done.
The lawsuit pointed out that he had multiple requests to officiate and solemnize weddings, but he had to say no to every one of them. Because while he’s allowed to officiate all he wants, the solemnizing is what the state cares about, and that’s precisely what he was excluded from doing.Also noteworthy? If he lost the case, he could have appealed it to the same Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals where CFI won in a unanimous decision in the earlier Indiana case. That didn’t guarantee victory this time around, but the odds were looking good.
The good news we learned today is that Galen and CFI won’t have to appeal the ruling. They won their case in a District Court. Judge Colin S. Bruce said that Illinois law is unconstitutional on this matter and that marriages solemnized by a Secular Celebrant would indeed be recognized by the state as valid. More importantly, both sides of the issue agree to this decision, which means the state won’t fight the ruling.
The parties further agree not to appeal this decision and certify that as of this date Galen Broaddus is the only CFI certified secular celebrant in Macon County, Illinois.
Galen and CFI are thrilled, as you might imagine:
“I am truly relieved by this ruling, and I am ready to get to work,” said Broaddus. “I think of all the couples who feel marginalized for being nonreligious, who either had to compromise their core beliefs by taking part in a religious wedding ceremony, or else settled for a government wedding. But now they have the opportunity to have one of the most deeply meaningful events of their lives commemorated in a way that reflects who they are.”
“We made sincere efforts with the Illinois legislature to have the authority to solemnize marriages extended to Secular Celebrants, and it’s frustrating that this simple matter had to be settled through the courts,” said Nicholas Little, Vice President and General Counsel of CFI. “It would be so much easier — and far less expensive to taxpayers — if lawmakers across the country would agree to work with us so that secular couples everywhere can be married in accordance with their values.”
CFI said it would now work to achieve the same results in Texas, Michigan, and Ohio.
This whole battle really makes you wonder why there would be any opposition to people like Galen getting the same respect under the law as everyone else. Any Christian who thinks only religious ministers (or judges) have a right to perform weddings and have those marriages recognized by the state have to, by definition, explain why that perk applies to people who visit the Universal Life Church and get ordained in a matter of minutes. Is that how superficial their religious beliefs are?
This ought to be a no-brainer. No one — especially someone trained in the matter — should be excluded from performing weddings (and having them count) if that’s what the couple wants.
(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)