Federal appeals court rules Indiana must allow humanists to officiate at weddings

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that Indiana must allow secular humanists to officiate at weddings, despite a state law [IC 31-11-6-1 text, PDF] that bars their participation. The court declared that the law unlawfully discriminates against nonreligious humanists who wish to have their marriage officiated by someone who shares their beliefs. Under the First Amendment [text, the court found, Indiana cannot disfavor a secular belief system while favoring other religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Indiana officials argued that humanists were free to marry, as long as the ceremony was officiated by someone authorized under state law. Additionally, the state argued that humanists could have a secular wedding in public and later have the marriage solemnized with a state-approved court clerk. Indiana officials also suggested that humanists could simply hold themselves out as a religious organization, thereby falling under the requirements of the statute. The court did not find these arguments compelling, however, and ruled that doing any of them would perpetuate further discrimination against nonreligious people. An injunction was issued allowing certified secular humanist celebrants to solemnize marriages without penalty.

Indiana's marriage laws were recently upended when the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiana struck down [JURIST report] the state's same-sex marriage ban. That ruling was later stayed [JURIST report] by the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, pending an appeal. In the opinion striking down the Indiana marriage ban, Chief Judge Richard Young commented on the phenomenon throughout the federal courts on the issue of same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder]. Since the Supreme Court struck down [JURIST report] section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act [text] last year, many federal courts have declared state same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional. Earlier in June the ACLU challenged Alabama's same sex marriage ban, days after Wisconsin's same-sex marriage ban was struck down [JURIST reports]. In May a federal judge struck down [JURIST report] Pennsylvania's same sex marriage ban. That followed a similar ruling in Oregon, where a federal judge struck down [JURIST report] that state's same sex marriage ban as well.

 

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