Washington, D.C., should allow secular marriage officiants


Oct. 20, 2010

Steve Lowe, a humanist activist who lives in Washington, D.C., recently testified at a D.C. Council public hearing in favor of the Marriage Officiant Amendment Act of 2010. The bill would permit notaries public to officiate marriage ceremonies in the district. His testimony appears in full below.

I am a resident of Ward 5 and have owned a home in DC for 30 years.  I am here to support and encourage the passage of Bill 18-821 – to permit our Notaries Public to officiate marriage ceremonies in the District of Columbia.

As a secular, non-religious DC citizen, if I were to get married I would not want it to be a religious ceremony, conducted by a religious officiant or have any religious messages or overtones surrounding  the ceremony.  Currently to be a marriage officiant in DC one must apply and be endorsed by another certified marriage officiant who is of the same religious society as you, or to apply without an endorsement and prove your membership in a religious society. 

There is no option for a secular society member or for a non-religiously endorsed person to become a marriage officiant.  This is discriminatory and unfair to the non-religious citizens of the District like me.

Currently, the only way to have a civil, secular marriage in DC is to:  

a)      Know a Judge personally and convince him or her to perform your marriage in their chambers.  I doubt they would entertain a request to go to another location like a home, hotel or social event venue where I would want the ceremony to be.

b)      Or, Go to the Marriage bureau in room 4485 of the Moultrie Courthouse where the waiting time for a 30 minute appointment  is 8-10 weeks from now!   This option is not very appealing for several reasons: .   The marriage party must go through metal detectors and security screening, they must walk  though long twisting dull bureaucratic hallways past the Office of mental retardation, the office of probation intake ,and the office of criminal finance (criminal finance???).  The staff is cordial and friendly but the waiting room is small and the Ceremony room can only accommodate 12 people.  – (Even though it is titled the Ceremony room, I overheard the security staff at the building entrance repeatedly call it the wedding chapel !  – I do not want to get married in a chapel as a chapel is a religious place.  Though, thankfully, the room is devoid of any religious iconography, it is decorated with an abundance of plastic flowers, plastic trees, plastic ivy and floral arches.  The table lampshade is covered with cellophane.  In a word, it is tacky.

I would like the option to have my non-religious marriage in a place of my choosing, at a time I choose,  by a person that I select  to officiate and have more than 15 guests.  This option is NOT available to me.

The Marriage bureau can provide a list of 30 marriage officiants who can be hired (for about $100) to perform your wedding, but of course they are all religious – as required by the current DC law.

This near monopoly of religion over marriage in DC must end.  The Pew Survey of Religion in America found that 16% of Americans are “unaffiliated” with any religion.  To put this in perspective, the percentage of African-Americans is the US is 13%.  So there could be up to 36,000 DC citizens who are not affiliated with any religion.  We deserve more options to have a secular marriage than currently offered by the DC government.  Allowing our Notaries Public to perform wedding ceremonies and officiate for a marriage will simply expand the service already offered by the government but with more options and less waiting time and in a more appealing setting.


Additionally, I would like to read into the record the position held by the American Humanist Association:  a national organization of over around 10,000 members, of which I am one.


“The American Humanist Association’s position is that the right to legally certify weddings should not be limited to those with religious credentials. To do so unfairly discriminates against the 15% of America who do not adhere to a particular religion. Undoubtedly, there are tens of thousands of District of Columbia residents who are not religious and do not want a religious person presiding over their marriage ceremonies. 

This bill which will allow notaries to perform marriages [i.e. 18-821] is a step in the right direction toward the point where the civil institution of marriage is distinct from the religious aspects that only some wish to include.”

Roy Speckhardt, Executive Director
American Humanist Association
1777 T Street NW, Washington DC