An Indiana law is "irrational" and "absurd" for allowing Satanists to perform legal marriages while making it a crime for Buddhists and humanists to do the same, a federal appeals court said this week.
It's been a rough few months for state marriage laws around the country, which judges have repeatedly struck down for not allowing same-sex couples to marry each other.
But what are the rights of the people who solemnize those unions? Laws vary across the U.S., with some states allowing anyone to solemnize a marriage; others restrict non-religious, non-public officials from performing ceremonies unless they become notaries public.
Indiana allows neither, limiting marriage powers to religious clergy and certain public officials like mayors, court clerks and judges. Indiana's statute specifically includes the faiths of Islam, Baha'i and Mormonism -- but omits many others, such as Buddhism, Rastafarianism and Jainism. Indiana law also makes it a crime for non-sanctioned celebrants to purport to carry out a legal ceremony.
The Center for Inquiry -- a humanist group whose leader is barred from performing legal ceremonies because she is not considered "clergy" under law -- sued Indiana to argue that the state's law unfairly gives marriage powers to certain religions and not to secularists.
That led to the opinion issued on Monday from three 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judges, who said they found some rather unusual gaps in Indiana's marriage statute during court proceedings.
"At oral argument Indiana's lawyer said that the high priestess of the Church of Satan (along with Wiccans and those who worship Baal) could solemnize marriages under subsection (1), while Buddhists, many other religions, and humanists cannot," read the panel's opinion, which was written by circuit judge Frank Easterbrook.
Easterbrook noted that the humanist group in the case could perform "sham" weddings and have the unions later officially solemnized by a court official -- or classify itself a religious organization and call its leader "clergy" -- but both options would be hypocritical, the judge said.
"It is irrational to allow humanists to solemnize marriages if, and only if, they falsely declare that they are a 'religion,'" Easterbrook wrote. "It is absurd to give the Church of Satan, whose high priestess avows that her powers derive from having sex with Satan, and the Universal Life Church, which sells credentials to anyone with a credit card, a preferred position over Buddhists, who emphasize love and peace."
Despite its sweeping disdain, the court panel ruled narrowly, however, and instructed a federal judge who had previously denied to institute an injunction to issue an order allowing certified secular humanists to perform legal wedding ceremonies.
The panel, though, did gently hint that perhaps Indiana lawmakers might consider tweaking the law to allow notaries to perform weddings.
After all, almost anybody can be a notary.
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