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

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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.”



  • the law is ok
    No bruce the whole point of the first amendment was to prohibit the establishment of a state church by the federal government by Congress. Not to prohibit anything by the states apparently from its literal text. not that this have ever stopped the courts from using it however they pleased. here the courts just let the legislature do what they are there for-- to Legislate. Democracy and all that jive!
  • Religious privilege IS unconstitutional
    Providing specific privilege to religious institutions that cannot be obtained by secular organizations or non-theistic citizens is, by definition, unconstitutional. That is the whole point of the establishment clause and the first amendment. While the authority of the constitution in this country seems to be eroding due to opportunism by our politicians and apathy by the populace, it does not change the content of the constitution nor the legal precedent.

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