A different kind of marriage equality April 13, 2013Posted by Ubi Dubium in Rants.
Tags: atheism, clergy, law, marriage, marriage equality, religion
So, with all the progress being made toward removing the barriers on equal access to getting married, there’s a different sort of barrier that’s mostly still up: restrictions on who’s allowed to conduct marriage ceremonies.
In general, clergy members can get approval to do marriages. In Virginia, if they are a member of an in-state church, they have to apply, and fill out all kinds of details about their education, classes, church structure, etc., and then they are approved to do as many weddings as they want. Here’s an application for this from Fairfax County, Virginia, website.
It includes questions like this:
2. Describe in detail your credentials for being a minister (i.e. schooling, degree, seminars, etc.)
4. How do your responsibilities differ from those of the members of the organization?
5. List the privileges and benefitsderived from your ordination (i.e. perform baptisms, authority to preside over services, etc.)
Clergy from out-of-state churches can apply for a one-time approval for a particular wedding.
So what about religions with no ordained clergy? And how about all of us non-religious people?
Like out-of-state clergy, one-time approval for a particular wedding is available, BUT the celebrant has to also pony up a $500.00 deposit. What???
How is this fair? If you bring in a clergyman from some minor religion from somewhere far away, they pay no deposit, but if you have no official clergy there’s a $500 deposit??? I’ve lived in the state practically my whole life, have been a notary for many years, and yet they would force me to put down a deposit because they would not trust me to send the paperwork in afterwards. But somebody who’s “clergy”, like Fred Phelps, they’d trust him?
Recently, the Sikhs, who have no ordained clergy, sued over this very issue, and I’m glad to say that they won:
But that still leaves the unaffiliated out in the cold. It’s apparently not possible, at least in this county, for us to get a permanent authorization to celebrate marriages. So my spouse, who is already a judicial officer for the state, could not get a standing authorization for celebrating weddings and would have to pay a deposit every time.
I obviously have a problem with this. Part of my problem is that it’s getting the state too involved in deciding on what counts as a religion and what doesn’t. (I’m an ordained Pastafarian minister, and perhaps someday I’ll test out seeing if the state will approve me as clergy.) But my biggest problem is that there really isn’t a need to single out clergy as more qualified than anybody else to conduct weddings. There could just be one procedure for qualifying as a permanent celebrant, including a test on the paperwork rules, and clergy would have no special preference on this. All temporary celebrants would post bond, clergy or not. That would be fair to everybody, and no more discrimination questions or lawsuits.
(Yes, I know this is a small issue compared to getting gay marriage legalized. But it’s one example of the tremendous privilege that religion has in the US today.)