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MN Law Would Recognize Secular Celebrants

A new bill has been introduced in the Minnesota state legislature that would allow secular celebrants to officiate weddings and sign marriage certificates, which would be a bit step forward for diminishing religious privilege and advancing equal rights for the non-religious.

Minnesota state Sen. John Marty (D) introduced a bill on Friday to amend the state’s existing statute on civil marriages to allow atheists and humanists to preside over wedding ceremonies.

The bill would grant “solemnization authorization,” which includes legally signing marriage certificates, to secular celebrants appointed by atheist or humanist organizations.

Under current state law, “ministers of any religious denomination … are authorized to solemnize a civil marriage” after filing documents from their spiritual assembly with the local county registrar.

The measure, SF 2958, aims to add “any other celebrant,” specifically identifying atheists or humanists, to the law’s existing statute on civil marriages.

This needs to pass, not only in Minnesota but in every other state as well. It is absurd that we automatically grant to ministers the right to solemnize marriages and ignore those who would like their wedding to be performed by someone who shares their views.

Comments

  1. Chiroptera says

    I still think that a better policy would be to have no celebrants at all. Just have the couple sign the certificate in front of the authorized clerk, taking an oath if necessary, and that’s that: they are married.

    Now if they want, they can get a nice paper certificate, suitable for framing, that they can have anyone they want sign it if and when they decide to have have an additional (legally not required nor having any legal force) ceremony to celebrate their marriage.

  2. Chiroptera says

    To avoid misunderstandings in my last comment, I do recognize that this bill would be a definate improvement over the current situation and I agree that it should pass. I just think that there is an even better improvement that can be made.

  3. matty1 says

    I agree completely, the law has an interest in making sure the people getting married are consenting adults and understand what they’re getting into. It does not have an interest in getting relationships approved by the right kind of person.

  4. says

    @Chiroptera #1 – Every single jurisdiction already allows for that: it is unconstitutional to require any kind of religious ritual for marriage, or any other matter of civil law.

    Personally, I would like to see the law of Maine, North Carolina and Florida spread. In those states, the witnessing of a marriage is nothing more than a special jurat; as such, any notary public can take the oath in the presence of two witnesses and countersign the affidavit. Let’s eliminate a special privilege extended to clergy — and thus eliminate all of the legal nonsense about who qualifies as clergy — and give notaries public this power. If a minister wishes to be a “one stop shop,” he can get licensed as a notary. No fuss, no muss, and no special rights for religion.

  5. matty1 says

    I’m confused, if as Gregory says marriage is made legal by having the couple sign a certificate in front of a clerk then what is the legal function of an officiant? I assume there must be one or it wouldn’t take legislation to extend the definition.

  6. phytophactor says

    Out Unitarian church is as humanist/secularist as they come, and our minister gets way too many requests to conduct marriages for non-members, mostly people who have been denied marriage in their own church(es). To accommodate these people several members of the congregation have received training and certification to act as wedding celebrants all within the church-wedding construct.

  7. Scr... Archivist says

    This needs to pass, not only in Minnesota but in every other state as well.

    What states already have this? I remember Stephanie Zvan writing about this recently. Some states allow Justices of the Peace or retired judges to marry people.

    matty1 @7,

    I thought that there had to be a marriage certificate obtained from one person, and the officiant solemnizing the marriage has to be someone else. But maybe that depends on what state you live in.

  8. says

    When I married about five years ago, in Texas, we went to the county clerk’s office (Travis Co.) and got an Informal marriage license. We basically signed an affidavit that provides all the same rights as a traditional one, it just didn’t require the signature of an officiant. No vows, no judge or cleric, just our signatures and proof of identity. We used our drivers licenses and social security cards. It was effective immediately.

    While they still offer the traditional type where it’s signed by witnesses and an officiant it’s not effective until it’s filed with the county clerk. I don’t see what the point of it is since all it does is recognize that some type of ceremony occurred. We could have had a ceremony or reception at any time, before or after, of our own choosing.

    I was recently on the county clerk website (again in Travis Co.) and noticed they had a slide show of recent applicants or couples who had obtained a marriage license or Domestic Partnerships certificates. I was happy to see a large percentage of the pictures showed same-sex couples getting a Domestic Partnership certificate.

    It is still unfortunate that we still have all these different certificate types when, in reality, they all provide the same basic function.

  9. says

    Where I live, the clerk of courts can officiate at the ceremony (and she did it strictly gods-free). I’m pretty sure a couple can get signed off at the courthouse just about everywhere.

    But it is disciminatory to allow clergy this authority and not secularists.

  10. U Frood says

    Why do you need any qualifications to sign a wedding certificate? Any verification of the the parties involved should have taken place when they acquired the the wedding license. All that should be required after the ceremony is having the newlyweds sign the paper and send it back saying, “Yes, we decided to go ahead with it. Make it so!”

  11. says

    In Minnesota, court clerks have the ability to officiate at weddings. As a practical matter, that rarely happens. Nor is it as simple as walking into the courthouse and signing a piece of paper. We have a five-day waiting period between applying for the license and getting married. Weddings at the courthouse are done by judges.

    That means that a couple that wants a ceremony in an atheist or humanist community currently has these options:

    – Persuade a court clerk to perform the ceremony outside the courthouse.
    – Have two weddings, one in front of a judge and one in a community setting.
    – Find an officiant within the community who is willing to declare themselves religious for the purpose of getting the state’s approval (religious humanists and Universal Life church are the two most common).

    Officiants who, for reasons of conscience, are not willing to declare themselves religious are not able to conduct ceremonies recognized by the state.

    There are separate bills to allow notaries public and mayors to also officiate at weddings, as those are offices that already have state responsibilities. This still doesn’t solve the problem of being able to hold weddings within our communities that have the force of law the way that religious communities can.

  12. says

    @matty1 #7 – The legal function of a marriage officiant — whether cleric, celebrant, clerk or notary public — is to be a minister of the law. That is to say, the officiant is an impartial witness who makes sure that the proper legal forms are observed. Duties vary by state, but typically the officiant is just the senior of three official witnesses to the marriage vows, with the additional duty of sending the paperwork in to the proper civil agency.

    Every state recognizes notaries public as being impartial witnesses empowered to witness oaths (a power called “taking a jurat”), and three states — Maine, North Carolina and Florida — have merged these functions and added marriage officiant to the list of notary powers. I think more states should do the same thing.

    @Scr… Archivist #9 – State laws vary. In my state of Washington, legal officiants are “[j]ustices of the supreme court, judges of the court of appeals, judges of the superior courts, supreme court commissioners, court of appeals commissioners, superior court commissioners, any regularly licensed or ordained minister or any priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any religious organization, and judges of courts of limited jurisdiction as defined in RCW 3.02.010.” (Revised Code of Washington 26.04.050.) The minister part is interpreted very loosely: when I had my own celebrant business, I technically did religious weddings under the aegis of the Universal Life Church. In California, county clerks can officiate weddings, and municipal and county charters can authorize other civil authorities to do so as well (the Mayor of San Francisco, for example, may legally officiate.)

  13. colnago80 says

    AFAIK, a judge can conduct a civil marriage ceremony in every state in the US. I believe that also includes federal judges (Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg officiated at a civil ceremony for two women in Washington, D.C.).

  14. matty1 says

    Gregory in Seattle.

    @matty1 #7 – The legal function of a marriage officiant — whether cleric, celebrant, clerk or notary public — is to be a minister of the law. That is to say, the officiant is an impartial witness who makes sure that the proper legal forms are observed. Duties vary by state, but typically the officiant is just the senior of three official witnesses to the marriage vows, with the additional duty of sending the paperwork in to the proper civil agency.

    That makes more sense, so the authorised clerk, Chiroptera talks about is an officiant in the same sense right?

    For some reason I was reading the combination of your comments as.

    Go to the office and sign before a clerk + no other ceremony = legal marriage

    Go to the office and sign before a clerk + take vows before a separate officiant with a state licence = legal marriage

    Go to the office and sign before a clerk + take vows before anyone without a state licence = not a legal marriage

  15. matty1 says

    If someone has a wedding officiated by an official officiant (say that three times fast) do they also need to go in and do the signing the paperwork before a clerk bit separately?

  16. Crimson Clupeidae says

    Considering the Unitarians have essentially been giving away (ok, there’s a nominal fee for the paperwork) ‘ordinations’ online for decades, this is kinda too little too late, but it’s a nice gesture.

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