The Center for Inquiry is suing the state of Texas because its marriage laws require officiants to be either religious leaders or certain government officials.
In doing so, CFI hopes to achieve the same kind of victories they’ve seen in Oregon (legislatively), Illinois (via lawsuit), and Indiana (also via lawsuit). All three states now allow Secular Celebrants to officiate weddings. A similar lawsuit is already underway in Michigan. CFI says it’s also working with Ohio lawmakers on a legislative fix to their problem.
The relevant part of the Texas law can be found in Section 2.202:
(a) The following persons are authorized to conduct a marriage ceremony:
(1) a licensed or ordained Christian minister or priest;
(2) a Jewish rabbi;
(3) a person who is an officer of a religious organization and who is authorized by the organization to conduct a marriage ceremony;
(4) a justice of the supreme court, judge of the court of criminal appeals, justice of the courts of appeals, judge of the district, county, and probate courts, judge of the county courts at law, judge of the courts of domestic relations, judge of the juvenile courts, retired justice or judge of those courts, justice of the peace, retired justice of the peace, judge of a municipal court, retired judge of a municipal court, associate judge of a statutory probate court, retired associate judge of a statutory probate court, associate judge of a county court at law, retired associate judge of a county court at law, or judge or magistrate of a federal court of this state; and
(5) a retired judge or magistrate of a federal court of this state.
(c) Except as provided by Subsection (d), a person commits an offense if the person knowingly conducts a marriage ceremony without authorization under this section. An offense under this subsection is a Class A misdemeanor.
In short, unless you want a judge to marry you, your only options are a priest, rabbi, other religious leader… or, as many atheists may have opted for in the past, someone ordained by an online church with the help of a credit card and two minutes of time.
There’s just no good reason to deny Secular Celebrants, who obtain that title through training, the same opportunities.
The lawsuit is on behalf of two plaintiffs, Eric McCutchan and Arthur Bratteng (Director of CFI Austin), who have that Secular Celebrant title but are not allowed to conduct wedding ceremonies — at least not ones that “count.”
And CFI makes clear that their members want people like McCutchan and Bratteng to perform their ceremonies:
A ceremony solemnized by secular elected officials is often not an acceptable alternative for any number of reasons, including: limitations on the time and place ceremonies may occur, the fact that religious concepts and language may be included in the ceremony contrary to the couple’s desires, the fact that the couple does not want the governmental overtone that the elected official’s presence carries, and that the official typically does not know the couple personally and therefore cannot construct a service which expresses the couple’s values and personalities.
Now CFI wants that to change:
“A religious couple can have their weddings officiated and solemnized by a representative of their faith, someone who shares their beliefs and values, as well they should,” said Nicholas Little, CFI’s Vice President and Legal Counsel. “Why deny this same basic right to the religiously unaffiliated, who make up almost one fifth of Texas’ population?”
Steve Bratteng, Director of CFI-Austin and a plaintiff in the lawsuit said, “It’s time for secular Texans to be able to pick a wedding officiant who represents their beliefs and life stance. It would be unconscionable for the state to deny this opportunity to Jewish people, or Muslims; non-believers and the religiously unaffiliated deserve the same opportunities. Eric McCutchan and myself are looking forward to the opportunity of helping those people have the best wedding day possible.”
“Secular Celebrants are very important for people who do not want a religious wedding or a preacher delivering a ‘fire and brimstone’ sermon at their funeral,” said Reba Boyd Wooden, director of CFI’s Secular Celebrant program, which has been training and certifying Secular Celebrants since 2009. “We have been able to help many people have a secular wedding customized to their liking and a memorial service that respects the person and their right to not be religious.”
Even in Texas, this ought to be a clear ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. The benefit is obvious, the harm is non-existent, and the legal precedent is fully on the celebrants’ side.
(Image via Shutterstock)