Government-Supported Religion

It's Not Getting Any Easier To Have A Secular Wedding In Texas

  Rob Boston

Not everyone wants to get married in a house of worship. Not everyone wants a member of the clergy to officiate at the service. Some people want a secular wedding day.

And in some states, that can be hard to get.

Consider Texas, for example. State law says only members of the clergy and some government officials can perform marriages. The Center for Inquiry (CFI), an ally of Americans United, says that’s unfair to secular celebrants and sued over the matter.

Unfortunately, a federal court on Friday ruled against CFI. U.S. District Judge Jane Boyle asserted in her ruling that “the state has an interest in … ensuring the respect, solemnity, and gravity of marriage ceremonies.” She added that only religious leaders and government officials such as judges can “reasonably be expected” to maintain an appropriate level of decorum.

Nick Little, CFI’s general counsel, called the ruling “ridiculous” and vowed to appeal.

The ruling does seem to have some issues. First off, it’s just not accurate to suggest that a secular celebrant can’t provide solemnity and gravity to marriage ceremonies. Anyone who has been to a secular wedding, funeral, baby welcoming event or other ceremony knows that’s not true.

Furthermore, what possible interest does the government have in ensuring that people have solemn and grave weddings? Solemnity is the last thing some people want at their wedding – they’d rather have fun. Some people go to Las Vegas and get married by Elvis Presley impersonators, others have Klingon weddings and so on. A wedding day is about what the couple wants. If they want solemnity, that’s fine, but those who prefer frivolity should be able to have that instead.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the government did have an interest in wedding quality control. It still should not be able to delegate its regulatory power to religious institutions but not secular ones.

At the end of the day, what matters as far as the state is concerned is that the proper paperwork is filed so that the couple is legally married. A secular celebrant can do that as easily as a member of the clergy.

Texas’s marriage law clearly extends a benefit to religious leaders that is not given to similarly situated secular officiants. It should be struck down on appeal.


Americans United & the National Women’s Law Center file suit to challenge Missouri’s abortion bans.

Abortion bans violate the separation of church and state. Americans United and the National Women’s Law Center—the leading experts in religious freedom and gender justice—have joined forces with thirteen clergy from six faith traditions to challenge Missouri’s abortion bans as unconstitutionally imposing one narrow religious doctrine on everyone.

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