Washington DC recently passed a bill to allow officiants without a religious affiliation to perform weddings. Matthew Bulger explains why all 50 states should do the same.
Marriages are both wonderful and stressful, as bringing so many family members together at one time while trying to feed and house them all can sometimes leave the happy couple feeling overwhelmed. Things can get even worse if your family and friends have passionate but differing opinions on religion and politics, a topic that I recently addressed for Humanist Network News. Unfortunately, this stress is only added to by draconian laws that limit who may perform a wedding based on factors such as the religious beliefs of the officiant and the flexibility of local court officers.
In our nation’s capital only religious authorities and court officers can perform marriages, with applications to perform a marriage ceremony by those without a religious affiliation often being rejected. Thankfully, a bill was just approved by the District of Columbia City Council that would create a single-use “temporary officiant” designation to allow for anyone to perform the marriage of a specific couple. This means that couples applying for a marriage license can designate a friend, parent, sibling or any other adult as a one-time officiant empowered to perform their marriage. The Humanist Society, an adjunct of the American Humanist Association which trains and equips officiants to perform humanist, nonreligious, and interreligious weddings and other lifecycle ceremonies, was proud to send Humanist Celebrant Fred Edwords to testify at the hearing in support of the bill.
While the archaic laws that govern Washington, D.C. mandate that this bill and any other bills approved by the D.C. City Council be reviewed and sanctioned by the U.S. Congress before becoming law, it’s likely that the citizens of Washington D.C. will soon have a lot more flexibility when choosing who they want to be married by. This is huge news for everyone that lives in the District, but it is especially significant for nonreligious residents who up until now had to choose between getting married at City Hall by someone they don’t know, or getting married by a religious leader from a faith tradition that the couple didn’t follow. Now, nonreligious residents can get married outside of City Hall by a secular officiant of their own choosing instead of relying on a city clerk or some other government employee.
Still, some residents won’t want to have to re-register with the city every time they are asked to perform a secular wedding. Thankfully, these residents can work with the Humanist Society, as officiants certified by the Humanist Society are one of the groups that are already recognized by the D.C. City Council to perform marriages. This means that Society-certified officiants won’t have to re-register every time they want to perform a new ceremony, which means they can spend less time filling in forms and more time performing humanist marriage ceremonies for their friends and family.
While certification via the Humanist Society is immensely rewarding (I’m certified myself) and allows the officiant to perform many marriages, most residents will only be asked to perform one marriage which is why this new bill is so important. Residents of the District, just like Americans all across the nation, shouldn’t be forced to join a religious or non-religious organization just to marry their friends or family. This new bill takes the important steps of making marriages less complicated and regimented, which is vital to respecting the beliefs of the couple and reforming the institution of marriage to reflect the values of modern society.