An atheist organization claims Indiana’s marriage statute is unconstitutional because it doesn’t allow nonbelievers to be married by their own leaders, but state officials say the group is divorced from reality.
The New York-based Center for Inquiry claims in a federal lawsuit that Indiana Code 31-11-6-1 violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment since it sets clear preference for religious individuals over those devoted to the “pursuit of ethical alternatives to religion.” The group says it filed suit on behalf of members John Kiel and Michelle Landrum, who plan to wed in the next six months.
“You can have a ceremony as a nonreligious person and have the marriage solemnized by someone in the government, but the issue is that a person of faith can have a leader of their world view solemnize that marriage that the nonreligious do not have,” said Paul Fidalgo, communications director for The Center for Inquiry. “They are looking to win that right, to have it solemnized. That’s the key word.”
According to Hoosier State law, marriages may be solemnized by a member of the clergy or a religious organization such as a priest, a bishop, an archbishop or a rabbi, as well as government officials like a mayor, a clerk or a clerk of the circuit court. It also specifically names the Friends Church, German Baptists, the Baha’i faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and imams of a mosque as groups who can conduct marriages in the state. Nowhere does the statute list “secular celebrants,” or anyone else whose status is based on their disbelief in a creator.
A ceremony solemnized by secular elected officials – even if they happen to be atheists – is not acceptable, according to the suit, for several reasons, including limitations on time and places where the marriage may occur, unwanted governmental overtone and a lack of personal connection to that official.
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