Back in December 2012, I posted on a District Court decision that denied a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s marriage solemnization law (IC 31-11-6-1) brought by the Center for Inquiry seeking to require Indiana to recognize marriages solemnized by humanist secular celebrants. IC 31-11-6-1 provides that marriages may be solemnized by members of the clergy of a religious organization, judges, mayors, county and city clerks and clerk treasurers, the Friends Church, the German Baptists, the Bahai faith, the Mormons, and imams.
At the time of the District Court decision, I wrote:
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.
Today, the Seventh Circuit says (pdf) that the District Court and I are wrong.
The State suggested, among other things, that if the Humanists would just call themselves a religion, that would be good enough for the State and they could solemnize marriages. However, the Seventh Circuit observed that “humanists groups that reject the label “religion” are excluded from Indiana’s list of permissible celebrants.”
The Seventh Circuit says that favorable accommodations of religious groups over secular groups aren’t permissible where secular groups are identical with respect to the attribute selected for that accommodation. Such accommodations have to be neutral, particularly when dealing with religious and secular beliefs that hold the same place in adherents’ lives. The Seventh Circuit had previously held that, when making accommodations in prisons, states must treat atheism as favorably as theistic religion. By extension, this applies to humanists as much as it does to atheists.
The Circuit court agreed that humanists could get married by having a celebrant perform the ceremony which has no legal effect, but then could go to the Clerk to get the marriage solemnized. The fact of having to go that extra step was, the court reasoned, impermissible discrimination by the State.
Lutherans can solemnize their marriage in public ceremonies conducted by people who share their fundamental beliefs; humanists can’t. Humanists’ ability to carry out a sham ceremony, with the real business done in a back office, does not address the injury of which plaintiffs complain.
And with that wind up, the Court closes in a fairly scathing manner:
These examples, and the state’s willingness to recognize marriages performed by hypocrites, show that the statute violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the First Amendment. It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a “religion.” 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.