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Religious bent of Indiana’s marriage statute is not unconstitutional, federal court rules

December 3, 2012

The Center For Inquiry, a non-profit that promotes a secular society based on science and reason, plans to appeal a federal court’s ruling that Indiana’s Solemnization Statute is constitutional.

CFI filed a complaint in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, seeking permanent injunctive relief to stop the clerk and the prosecutor from enforcing the Solemnization Statute, Indiana Code 31-11-6-1.

In a ruling issued Nov. 30, in Center For Inquiry, Inc., Reba Boyd Wooden, John Kiel, and Michelle Landrum v. Clerk, Marion Circuit Court, and Prosecutor, Marion County, Indiana, 1:12-CV-00623-SEB-DML, the court denied the plaintiffs’ request for permanent injunctive relief.

“Quite frankly, I think we were optimistic about how this particular case was going to turn out,” said Paul Fidalgo, spokesman for CFI. “We were surprised by the court’s ruling. We felt our case was extremely strong and explained very clearly to the court the institutional privilege of religion in the law as it stands.”

John Kiel and Michelle Landrum wanted to be married in Indianapolis by Reba Boyd Wooden, executive director of CFI-Indiana and a secular celebrant. Indiana requires marriages be solemnized and grants the authority to solemnize to religious and certain government officials. It does not recognize secular celebrants.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the Indiana Solemnization Statue, Indiana Code 31-11-6-1, and to secure a judicial declaration that the Solemnization Statute violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. They contend the statute creates a preference for religion over non-religion.

The plaintiffs also sought a declaration that the Solemnization Statute does not comport with the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  

The court rejected those arguments, finding the statute does not significantly impede a couple from getting married. Also, it agreed with the defendants’ assertion that since marriage has religious roots, it is both natural and logical that when the state government regulates entry into marriage, it accommodates those deep religious traditions.

Writing for the court, Judge Sarah Evans Barker stated, “In addition, Plaintiffs’ proffered evidence and statement at oral arguments give us no pause regarding the Solemnization Statute’s validity. We therefore will not disturb the presumption that this statute is a valid, nondiscriminatory exercise of the State’s power. Defendants have supplied adequate rational justifications for the statute: accommodating various faith traditions, maintaining official record-keeping systems, and ensuring that marriage ceremonies are meaningful, inter alia.”




 

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