Atheist Group Sues Indiana Over Marriage Statute

A nationwide atheist organization has sued the Indiana state government over its marriage statute, which they say forbids them from overseeing marriages.

Arguments were heard in U.S. District Court on Monday for the suit filed by the Center for Inquiry against Indiana's marriage statute, which the secular group alleges is unconstitutional.

Paul Fidalgo, communications director for the Center for Inquiry, told The Christian Post that nonreligious people should be allowed to choose a nonreligious celebrant solemnizing their marriage.

"We believe that just because a person is nonreligious, that doesn't mean that they shouldn't have the opportunity to be married by the officiant of their choice," said Fidalgo.

"The nonreligious, who often have secular celebrants they would prefer to have play that important role in their lives, deserve the same right."

According to Indiana Code 31-11-6, titled "Authority to Solemnize Marriages," those who can perform marriages include a "member of the clergy of a religious organization (even if the cleric does not perform religious functions for an individual congregation), such as a minister of the gospel, a priest, a bishop, an archbishop, or a rabbi."

The code section also specifically lists certain government officials as well, and specifically names the Friends Church, German Baptists, the Baha'i faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and an imam of a mosque as groups and individuals who can solemnize marriages.

"Religious believers are not limited to a handful of government functionaries to solemnize their marriages -- they are allowed to have a leader in their faith community perform the ceremony and solemnize their marriage," said Fidalgo.

Bryan Corbin, Public Information Officer for the Office of the Indiana Attorney General, told The Christian Post that presently arguments are being heard over an injunction against the marriage statute.

"The state opposes an injunction, and the court has not ruled yet. Because of the ongoing litigation, there is little comment that our office can make about the case at this time," said Corbin. "We note that the purpose of the statute is for the state to regulate marriage while accommodating religious groups and providing alternatives for nonreligious organizations."

Corbin provided CP with a brief that was filed by the Attorney General's Office on Tuesday, Oct. 9, which states that "there is no constitutional right to solemnize marriages."

"CFI's relatively short history and organizational indifference to marriage are instructive in this regard, as they demonstrate that CFI has no traditional association with marriage, and no philosophy that incorporates marriage in any significant way," reads the brief in part.

"With marriage solemnization, the State has chosen to remain sensitive to the traditional practices of groups for whom marriage is a special, indeed commanded, institution-a rationale that does not apply to CFI."

The Center for Inquiry's case is being handled by the Indiana chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. With arguments heard, a decision from the district court is still pending.

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