Indiana's Marriage Statute Violates Constitution

Affiliate: ACLU of Indiana
May 9, 2012 12:00 am

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ACLU of Indiana Files Suit on Behalf of Secular Group

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Indianapolis – Indiana allows religious groups to perform marriages in accordance with their beliefs. But marriages performed by a non-religious group that trains and certifies secular celebrants are not recognized by state law — a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

“From a First Amendment perspective, it is proper and necessary for the state to allow religions to marry people according to their beliefs,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk. “However, the state law becomes unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause when you say that religions are the only groups with rights to have their beliefs recognized in marriage ceremonies.”

Falk said the statute, Indiana Code § 31-11-6-1, also violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because it denies the non-religious group its rights to spread its “essential beliefs” by performing marriage ceremonies, while allowing religious groups those same privileges.

The Center for Inquiry and the executive director of its Indiana branch, Reba Boyd Wooden, along with two longtime CFI-Indiana members from Kentucky who wish to marry in Indiana, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. 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.

IC § 31-11-6-1 lists among the groups “approved” to perform marriage ceremonies members of clergy and certain secular elected officials, and certain religious faiths including the Bahai faith, Friends Church, German Baptists and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

“This case is more than just an issue of fairness,” said ACLU of Indiana Interim Executive Director Frank Young. “It’s about respecting the rights of all who value marriage in Indiana. All who wish to have their marriage commitments solemnized should be able to do so in accordance with their beliefs, whether those beliefs are religious or not.”

The case, Center for Inquiry, Inc., et al. v. Clerk, Marion Circuit Court, et al. was filed in the United States District Court Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, under cause number 1:12-cv-0623-SEB.

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