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7th Circuit: Indiana's marriage solemnization statute violates Constitution

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Finding that Indiana’s statute specifying who many solemnize marriage “discriminates arbitrarily among religious and ethical beliefs,” the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the state must allow certified secular humanist celebrants to perform wedding ceremonies.

The 7th Circuit reversed a judgment from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Center for Inquiry, Inc., and Reba Boyd Wooden v. Marion Circuit Court Clerk and Marion County Prosecutor, 12-3751. The unanimous 7th Circuit panel ordered the lower court to issue an injunction enabling certified secular humanist celebrants to legally solemnize marriage in Indiana.

Indiana Code 31-11-6-1 which allows religious clergy and state officials, such as judges, mayors and county clerks, to perform marriage ceremonies was challenged by the Center for Inquiry on the grounds that the statute omits the equivalent officials from secular groups, such as humanists societies. The center argued the state’s marriage solemnization statute violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by giving some religions a privileged role.

The state countered that humanists are not excluded under the statute. It contended a humanist group could meet the statute’s requirements for solemnizing marriages simply by calling itself a religion; or, the humanist celebrant could conduct an “extra-legal ceremony” which would be followed by the couple making a trip to the local court to have the clerk perform a legal solemnization.

The 7th Circuit rejected that argument, saying the “ability to carry out a sham ceremony, with the real business done in the back office,” does not address the injury of which the humanists complain.  

Taking a closer examination of Indiana’s statute, the 7th Circuit concluded that the state not only discriminates against non-religious ethical groups but also discriminates among religions by preferring those that have clergy and consider marriage to be sacred.

Consequently, the 7th Circuit ruled the Indiana marriage solemnization statute violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

“It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriage if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a ‘religion,’” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for the court. “It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace. A marriage solemnized by a self-declared hypocrite would leave a sour taste in the couple’s mouths; like many others, humanists want a ceremony that celebrates their values, not the ‘values’ of people who will say or do whatever it takes to jump through some statutory hoop.”

The 7th Circuit also noted if Indiana amends its statute to allow notaries to solemnize marriages, then the District Court should be receptive to a motion to modify the injunction.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said he is evaluating options to appeal the 7th Circuit’s ruling.

Reiterating his office has a duty to defend state laws, Zoeller said “we contend the Legislature’s requirements for determining who can solemnize a marriage for the purpose of filing a marriage license at the county clerk’s office were reasonable and included alternatives for couples without involving clergy.”

The Attorney General characterized the ruling as narrow but raising an important question of state legislative authority.


 

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  • John
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  • Exhibit B
    This constitution from South Carolina, 1778, demonstrates just how much the Christian religion was front and center in the founding of our nation. This passage was not revised until after the war between the states. XXXVIII. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State, demeaning themselves peaceably and faithfully, shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges. But that previous to the establishment and incorporation of the respective societies of every denomination as aforesaid, and in order to entitle them thereto, each society so petitioning shall have agreed to and subscribed in a book the following five articles, without which no agreement fir union of men upon presence of religion shall entitle them to be incorporated and esteemed as a church of the established religion of this State: 1st. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments. 2d. That God is publicly to be worshipped. 3d. That the Christian religion is the true religion 4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice. 5th. That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth. http://teachingamericanhistory.org/bor/constitutions/south-carolina/
  • Exhibit A
    Exhibit A is our own Indiana constitution, Mr. Mudd. Not dedicated to Allah, or Brahma, or each person's individually chosen Higher Power (or lower poweress). No, study the language used for the Divine and find that it comes from the Book of Genesis. PreAmble: "TO THE END, that justice be established, public order maintained, and liberty perpetuated; WE, the People of the State of Indiana, grateful to ALMIGHTY GOD for the free exercise of the right to choose our own form of government, do ordain this Constitution." First five planks, star billing .....ARTICLE 1. Bill of Rights Section 1. Inherent rights Section 1. WE DECLARE, That all people are created equal; that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that all power is inherent in the People; and that all free governments are, and of right ought to be, founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and well-being. For the advancement of these ends, the People have, at all times, an indefeasible right to alter and reform their government. (History: As Amended November 6, 1984). Section 2. Right to worship Section 2. All people shall be secured in the natural right to worship ALMIGHTY GOD, according to the dictates of their own consciences. (History: As Amended November 6, 1984). Section 3. Freedom of religious opinions Section 3. No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience. Section 4. Freedom of religion Section 4. No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent. (History: As Amended November 6, 1984). Section 5. No religious test for office Section 5. No religious test shall be required, as a qualification for any office of trust or profit.
  • We built this city
    The State Constitutions of those states that formed up the federal government reveal that Christians, not satanists, not materialists, not Moslems built this social order. The traditions were Western, not oriental. The Fathers of the Republic built off of the Fathers of the Faith. Knowingly so, even if the Fathers of the Republic were Enlightment devotees, they still realized that they built on the foundation of Christendom. Yet the federal governent, since the war between the states, has been hell bent on denying this Christian identity to the separate states. We now face secularism and agnosticism enforced by federal court decrees. Yet none dare call it apostacy? Well, we can at least call it modernity, a veriable revolution in our times. We are building a city, a city that supplants the Christian constitutional republics that once ruled this land.... in its far better days. Hail the New Caesar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kF5ulIel2k
  • Ramblings
    My, my... how one rambles incoherently about "cultural moorings" that appeal to few and not the many whose moorings are tied to many differing beliefs. The paranoia of "ALWAYS aimed against Christian traditions" makes one wonder which of the many thousands of traditions should become law. If someone wants to have commitments made via representation of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or no church whatsoever, what does it matter? Divorces, regardless of cultural moorings, will continue to pass through the courts, thus keeping legal employment at high levels. As for the Indiana State Legislature ignoring "all historical and social context of its citizens", they have done a fine job over the years of ignoring their constituents once elected. Incoherent ramblings. Amazing.
  • preposterous
    Does the Constitution require the Indiana state legislature to ignore all historical and social context of its citizens altogether? Yet another example of how our vaunted "Democracy" is just a matter of convenience for when the government itself wants to enlist people to go die for some phony war or pay up the taxes due. When the legislatures offend political correctness and its monied backers in the slightest bit, in rush the black robes to nullify the laws. Amazing.
  • against all common sense
    If Jeffersonian non-Establishmentarian dicta about the First Amendment can be extended this far, to this ridiculous extent that would have had even Jefferson in shock, then the bands which hold the republic together have lost their elasticity........contemporary American secularism is now showing its extremism and lack of cultural moorings and hence its gross absurdity to all, not just to religiously observant folk who can tell the difference between spit and rain..........the ultimate ideological issue has little to do with clerical structure nor even with theism. The issue is between materialism and religion as such, because, all these suits are brought by materialists. They object not to intolerance because they are the most intolerant persons to be found. NO they object to the idea of religious authority as such, they object to the idea of any non-observable, unmeasurable phenomena as having any legitimate impact on human life at all. It's also fairly obvious that they are in practice always ALWAYS aimed against Christian traditions, the more "conservative" the better, though occasionally there may be collateral damage on some of their own sources of guidance, support, and anti-Christian energy..... not that Christians can detect this since they are generally the biggest supporters of secularism as a way to manage the conflict created by their own schisms....in the end these kinds of decisions are pure nihilism, they are farce, they are Dada, they become something like disgusting government funded performance art mocking the American people and their sacred traditions in favor of the current regime of political correctness. The federal judges can't solve this problem and the US Constitution itself is not Holy Writ. The "people" such as they now are, a chaotic polyglot agglomeration of social atoms, has devolved and lost the spirit of ordered liberty and no papers will save them.

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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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