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Suit claims marriage statute unconstitutional

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A secular group and three of its members are suing the Marion County prosecutor and clerk, claiming an Indiana statute is unconstitutional because it says that religions are the only groups with rights to have their beliefs recognized in marriage ceremonies.

The ACLU of Indiana filed the lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of The Center for Inquiry; its executive director of the Indiana branch, Reba Boyd Wooden; and two members of the Indiana branch who want to marry in Indiana. The Center for Inquiry – Indiana wants to be able to have its secular celebrants perform weddings but claims no members of the organization are allowed to solemnize marriages under Indiana Code 31-11-6-1.

John Kiel and Michelle Landrum, who recently moved to Kentucky, belong to the Center for Inquiry – Indiana and want to have their wedding conducted by a secular celebrant from the Center for Inquiry. They plan on marrying in Marion County, and they claim that Wooden, whom they want to perform the ceremony, can’t legally solemnize the marriage.

The statute lists what groups can solemnize marriages, including judges, mayors, clerks and a member of specified religious organizations.

According to the suit, someone who attempts to solemnize a marriage who is not authorized to do so commits a Class B misdemeanor.

The suit seeks to allow Boyd to perform the ceremony and prevent the Marion County prosecutor from prosecuting any Center for Inquiry secular celebrant who solemnizes an Indiana marriage.

“This case is more than just an issue of fairness," said ACLU of Indiana Interim Executive Director Frank Young. "It's about respecting the rights of all who value marriage in Indiana. All who wish to have their marriage commitments solemnized should be able to do so in accordance with their beliefs, whether those beliefs are religious or not."

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller will defend the Marion County prosecutor and Marion Circuit Court clerk since a state statute is being challenged and the prosecutor’s office is involved in the civil suit.

“My office will defend the authority of the people’s elected representatives in the Legislature to determine who may solemnize legal marriages in this state. This statute was first enacted in 1997 and amended in 1999, and this constitutional challenge is a test of the authority of the state. My office will seek to defend this statute from the legal challenge as we have defended the Voter ID law, the Choice Scholarships law and other statutes that have been challenged by private plaintiffs,” Zoeller said.

 

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