“It can’t be done by secular celebrants in a vast majority of states,” said Nick Little, vice president and legal counsel for The Center for Inquiry, a secular organization that advocates for keeping religion out of public policy.
The Center wants that to change. It filed a lawsuit last month along with Bratteng against the clerk of Dallas County, Texas, as part of an ongoing effort to change marriage laws. Similar challenges have already succeeded in Indiana and Illinois.
First, I still don’t think that we should have civil marriage at all. The fact that certain groups have pushed to have it expanded only indicates that we’ll be saddled with it for the foreseeable future.
Second, if we do have this, it should be performed only by authorised and duly deputised officials of the state:
States care about who can solemnize, or officiate, a wedding ceremony because marriage is serious business, according to Robin Fretwell Wilson, a law professor and director of the family law and policy program at the University of Illinois. It comes with legal and financial benefits, like shared insurance coverage.
“Marriage is a vehicle for handing out so many benefits and protections,” Wilson said. “If you had a free-for-all, with basically anybody being allowed to marry you, you’d have fraud concerns.”
States reduce the possibility of fraud by limiting the pool of eligible wedding officiants. Typically, the only people who can solemnize a wedding are government or religious leaders.
It is civil marriage, after all. In the past secular states have basically required people to be married by an active official of the state, and not recognised anyone else to do it (such as churches and ministers.) That was started by the French and this is the way it is done in many parts of the world.
But Americans, who claim to becoming more cosmopolitan by the day, once again refuse to do things like the rest of the world does it (as is the case with the metric system and merit-based immigration.) You think American secularists would be interested in advancing that cause on a substantive basis? Think again!