NewsPublic Affairs / July 14, 2014

Appeals Court Rules In Suit Over Who Can Make A Marriage Official

Brandon Smith
Appeals Court Rules In Suit Over Who Can Make A Marriage Official

A federal appeals court has ruled that Indiana’s statute determining who can solemnize marriages discriminates against some religious and ethical groups.  An Indiana atheist organization brought the lawsuit against the state.

Indiana’s marriage statute specifies who can make a marriage official – the clergy of any religious group and certain government officials like mayors and judges. 

Atheist group the Center for Inquiry filed a lawsuit in 2012 challenging the statute, claiming the state was making non-religious people unequal under the law.  A U.S. District Court judge disagreed, ruling against CFI, saying the complaint was about inconvenience and not constitutionality. 

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, Monday.  In its argument, the state said atheists could get married by having a ceremony presided over by someone licensed by CFI, and then have someone allowed to solemnize a marriage officially sign their license.

But  7th Circuit Judge Frank Easterbook says allowing atheists to have what he calls a “sham ceremony” does nothing to remedy their complaint.  The ruling also suggests the legislature amend the law to allow notaries to solemnize marriages, which CFI has said would be an acceptable solution.  The Indiana Attorney General’s office says it’s evaluating its appeal options.