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Monday, July 14, 2014

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today, a reversal

In Center for Inquiry v. Marion County Clerk (SD Ind., Barker), an 11-page opinion, Judge Easterbrook writes:

Indiana Code §31-­‐‑11-­‐‑6-­‐‑1 specifies who may solemnize a marriage—that is, perform the final steps that unite persons who hold marriage licens es. The list includes religious officials designated by reli gious groups but omits equivalent officials of secular groups such as humanist societies. Although three states (Florida, Maine, and South Carolina) authorize humanists to solem nize marriages by becoming notaries public, Indiana does not (notaries cannot perform marriages in Indiana)—nor does it provide any other way for private secular groups to exercise this authority. Four states (Alaska, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia) allow anyone to solemnize a mar riage, and another six (Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Penn sylvania, New York, and Wisconsin) allow the couple to sol emnize their own marriage, but neither option is available in Indiana. * * *

The current statute discriminates arbitrarily among reli gious and ethical beliefs. Plaintiffs say that they would be satisfied if notaries were added to the list; nothing in hu manism makes it inappropriate for a leader (or any other member) to be a notary public. Since Indiana has never giv en a reason for excluding notaries, while including every mayor (subsection (3)) and clerk of court (subsection (5)), that hardly seems an excessive request.

The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded with instructions to issue an injunction allowing certified secular humanist celebrants to solemnize marriages in Indiana—to do this with legal effect, and without risk of criminal penal ties. That is the relief plaintiffs request, and defendants have not made a counterproposal. If Indiana amends its statute to allow notaries to solemnize marriages, the district court should be receptive to a motion to modify the injunction un der Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(5) to minimize the extent to which a federal decree supersedes the state’s own solution to the problems we have identified.

The ILB was particularly taken by the last sentence, and added the emphasis.

The ACLU has sent out a news release, whic h reads in part:

Indianapolis - Today the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found that the exclusion of certified secular humanist celebrants from the list of people who can solemnize marriages in Indiana was unconstitutional and ordered the State to allow these celebrants to conduct weddings.

"As the Court noted, the First Amendment demands neutrality," said American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. "This prevents the State of Indiana from doing what it attempted to do in this case-favor religion over a non-religious-based system of belief and morality that is equivalent to religion, except for a belief in God."

Indiana Code § 31-11-6-1 allows certain civic leaders, such as mayors and clerks, as well as clergy and designates of certain religions to solemnize marriages. Excluded are certified secular celebrants from the Center for Inquiry, a humanist organization that provides a belief structure comparable to religion.

CFI's Secular Celebrant program trains participants to conduct marriage ceremonies in accordance with the center's essential beliefs, so that its members can have meaningful weddings featuring an assertion of their philosophical and ethical views. CFI believes in fostering a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry and humanist values in which the dignity and fundamental rights of all individuals are respected. CFI does not oppose the free exercise of religion.

"This is a big step forward in recognizing the rights of nonreligious persons," said Center for Inquiry Executive Director Reba Boyd Wooden. "Now couples may have a Secular Celebrant who shares their world view solemnize their marriage."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 14, 2014 12:26 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions