Secular Celebrant Bill Would Allow Atheists to Solemnize Marriages in Ohio

For Immediate Release: July 17, 2014
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director - (207) 358-9785

Continuing the growing movement for nonreligious Americans’ equal status with their religious neighbors, the Center for Inquiry has partnered with Ohio State Representative Mike Foley to introduce a bill that will authorize Secular Celebrants to solemnize marriages in Ohio. Just days ago, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously handed nonreligious Americans a major victory as it ruled in favor of allowing Secular Celebrants to solemnize marriages in neighboring Indiana.

Ohio House Bill 591 would reword the current law governing marriage officiants to allow anyone, regardless of religious affiliation, to register with the Secretary of State and receive the authorization to solemnize marriages. If the bill becomes law, secular humanists, atheists, and other nonreligious Americans will no longer have to settle for marriage by government employee, or through some quasi-religious mail-order certification, but will instead be able to celebrate this wonderful milestone event in a way that embraces their nontheistic worldview.

Members of the Northeast Ohio branch of the Center for Inquiry (CFI) – an organization that advocates for science, reason, and secular values – actively lobbied the State Assembly to take up this crucial issue of equal treatment for nonreligious Americans. Rep. Mike Foley embraced the idea, and worked with CFI on the bill. “I introduced House Bill 591 because we have couples in Ohio who wish to celebrate and solemnize their marriages in a secular manner,” said Rep. Foley. “It is time we allow couples greater freedom in choosing who performs their marriage, especially those couples in our state who do not have ties to a certain religious organizations.”

“Marriage is a union based on trust, understanding, and honesty,” said Monette Richards, president of CFI-Northeast Ohio. “In Ohio, the ability to solemnize marriages is restricted to church ministers and public officials. This restriction puts that honesty out of reach of many nonbelievers, who are currently unable to hold their marriage ceremonies in a way that is true to their life-stance.” 

Richards lauded the cooperation of Rep. Foley in championing this bill. “There are no adequate superlatives to describe Representative Foley who truly understands that all Ohioans deserve equal treatment, be they religious or nonreligious — especially in matters of such importance like marriage. As an undisputed ally, the secular community is proud to have him on the General Assembly advancing our cause while facing strong religious opposition.”

In neighboring Indiana on Monday, Judge Frank Easterbrook of the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Secular Celebrants solemnizing marriages, stating in his opinion that secular Americans “want their own views to be expressed by celebrants at marriages, [and] the state must treat them the same way it treats religion.” He also noted that secular Americans “are unwilling to pretend to be something they are not, or pretend to believe something they do not; they are shut out as long as they are sincere in following an ethical system that does not worship any god, adopt any theology, or accept a religious label.”

# # #

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason & Science, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and the Council for Secular Humanism. The Center for Inquiry strives to foster a secular society based on reason, science, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Visit CFI on the web at