District Court Rejects Constitutional Challenge to Marriage Solemnization Statute

A case brought by the Center for Inquiry challenged Indiana’s marriage solemnization statute on the grounds that it does not permit secular celebrants to solemnize marriages. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana rejected that challenge.(pdf)

The solemnization statute is IC 31-11-6-1:

Sec. 1. Marriages may be solemnized by any of the following:
(1) A member of the clergy of a religious organization (even if the cleric does not perform religious functions for an individual congregation), such as a minister of the gospel, a priest, a bishop, an archbishop, or a rabbi.
(2) A judge.
(3) A mayor, within the mayor’s county.
(4) A clerk or a clerk-treasurer of a city or town, within a county in which the city or town is located.
(5) A clerk of the circuit court.
(6) The Friends Church, in accordance with the rules of the Friends Church.
(7) The German Baptists, in accordance with the rules of their society.
(8) The Bahai faith, in accordance with the rules of the Bahai faith.
(9) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in accordance with the rules of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
(10) An imam of a masjid (mosque), in accordance with the rules of the religion of Islam.

A secular celebrant is someone who has some background in performing weddings, memorials, and other “milestones of life” ceremonies but who is not affiliated with any religion.

I think the District Court was probably correct, particularly under existing precedent, that this statute does not violate the establishment or free exercise clauses. It is maybe slightly more burdensome for an atheist to get married than a religious adherent. But, the fact is, the secular celebrant can still preside at your ceremony. You just might have to do a little extra paperwork at the Clerk’s office to have your marriage recognized by the State whereas the Muslim can just have the imam solemnize the marriage.

That said, the Center for Inquiry should lobby the General Assembly to amend the solemnization statute to allow for secular celebrants to solemnize marriages.


  1. Joe says

    Why does there need to be a law about who solemnizes a marriage? Why can’t the issuance of the marriage certificate be enough to show that two people have contracted to marry, and they can have whatever ceremony they so choose?

  2. Linda Phillips says

    A surprising number of people come in and receive marriage licenses yet do not file the duplicate certificate. I always thought this saved them the expense and the courts the effort of processing a divorce action.

  3. says

    So “solemnization of marriage” is a legal power restricted to the agents of the state and to religious leaders? How could that be constitutional?

    If it’s religious, the state shouldn’t be allowed to do it. If it’s not religious, it shouldn’t be allowed to be restricted to religious leaders? No?

  4. Carlito Brigante says

    Marriage is a legal relationship in the eyes of the state. Religous organizations provide parallel recognition, although I do not believe there is any legal effect given to any religous of the incidents of marriage. So I do not see the state as only sanctioning religous celebrants because secular celebrants are readily available. And many states probably authorize non-govermental secular celebrants.

    That being said, because of the importance that many people give to the divorce related dogmna of their religion, impediments to institutional divorce are high. An anullment in the catholic religion takes a many months of process and documentation, but they are obtainable.

    A Get in the Orthodox Jewish faith is much harder to obtain because they generally require the agreement of the male.

    Just one more reason to steer clear of organized mythology.

  5. Carlito Brigante says

    Joe without citing a case, the soleminization is probably required as evidence of the couple’s intent to actually commit to the marriage. A license is a strong indication of intent to wed but some people do get cold feet and back out at the last minute. So the ceremony cements and confirms the intent to enter into the marriage.

    • Joe says

      Understood, just not sure why it’s needed. Modify the law so that a couple that seeks a license is considered married unless they return to the same clerk in the next 30 days to return the license. For legal purposes, consider issuance of the license to be the legal beginning of the marriage unless the couple provides another date, not to be more than 30 days in the future from the date of issuance.

      (8 years of reading this blog has me thinking about how to write Indiana code. I blame you, Doug! )

  6. Carlito Brigante says

    Joe your method would probably work, but a more policy related question is why replace a well functioning system to remedy the lack of secular celebrants in Indiana. There is a simpler legislative solution, add a class of secular celebrants to the statute. Or go to a secular celebrant and have themselves describe themselves as a representative of the temple of the blue dome, or if from Indiana in December, the gray omnipresence.

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