What makes a marriage legal in Michigan?
To effectuate a legal marriage in Michigan requires obtaining a valid marriage license and having the wedding “solemnization” by certain authorized persons (in addition to other requirements involving consent, age requirements, etc.) (Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 551, Section 551.2)
Who is authorized to solemnize marriages in Michigan?
Marriages can only be solemnized in Michigan by certain elected and appointed government officials, and “ministers of the gospel” or other religious practitioners. (Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 551, Section 551.7)
Does Michigan law authorize Secular Celebrants or representatives of secular organizations such as Center for Inquiry to perform weddings and solemnize marriages?
No. Only certain elected and appointed government officials, ministers of the gospel, clergy, and religious practitioners are authorized to solemnize legal marriages in Michigan.
Currently CFI Secular Celebrants cannot solemnize marriages in Michigan. They can still perform public wedding or commitment ceremonies, but they cannot sign the marriage license.
Are there people who call themselves Secular Celebrants who can legally solemnize marriages?
Some people who identify themselves as Secular Celebrants may have the ability to legally solemnize weddings in Michigan if they are (or were previously) a minister, preist, or rabbi, etc. Those who are ordained/certified through religious organizations such as the Humanist Society (founded in the Quaker Tradition), Society for Humanistic Judaism (Jewish), or the Universal Life Church Monastery (Non-denominational) also qualify as a “minister of the gospel” under Michigan law. These Secular Celebrants will perform a marriage ceremony that has no religious content but can only do so in their capacity as clergy for a religious organization.
Why does CFI have a Secular Celebrants Training Program if its representatives can’t solemnize marriages in Michigan and most other states?
The CFI Secular Celebrant training program at Center for Inquiry is laying the groundwork for a legal challenge to state marriage laws that unconstitutionally show preference to religious organizations, but ensuring that our trained celebrants meet the requirements of most states to legally solemnize weddings (with the exception of being religious clergy).
Center for Inquiry filed a lawsuit in 2018, on behalf of members of CFI Michigan who are CFI Secular Celebrants, to challenge the the current Marriage Statute that only allows “ministers of the gospel” and some judges/clerks in Michigan to solemnize weddings. The lawsuit is currently ongoing.
What kind of organization is CFI?
CFI is a 501c3 non-profit educational corporation. Churches and religious organizations such as the Humanist Society, Society for Humanistic Judaism, and Universal Life Church are 501c3 ecclesiastical corporations.
Can people who are certified through the CFI Secular Celebrant Training Program affiliate with a religious organization in order to solemnize marriages?
No. CFI is not a religious organization, so the management of CFI does not allow anyone acting as a CFI Secular Celebrant to solemnize a marriage under any religious designation or pretense, or using the certification of any religious organization. This includes but is not limited to The Humanist Society, The Ethical Union, the Society for Humanistic Judaism, traditional religions, and so called “mail order” ordinations such as the Universal Life Church. Accordingly, people who conduct marriage ceremonies as CFI Secular Celebrants cannot legally solemnize a marriage in Michigan at this time. Couples will need to find an individual that meets the requirements of the Michigan Marriage statute to legally sign the marriage license.
What are the options for having a marriage ceremony that has no religious content?
Arrange to be married by a federal, district, municipal, or probate court judge or magistrate, city mayor, county clerk, minister of the gospel, clergy, or religious practitioner who will agree to perform a ceremony devoid of religious content. Be aware that there is no requirement for anyone in those positions to perform your wedding or to perform a non-religious wedding. However, many ministers of Unitarian churches, liberal Christian churches, or people who become ordained as a Universal Life Church minister will often be willing to perform weddings that have no religious content.
CFI Michigan has a (limited) list of Secular Celebrants and individuals who will perform secular/non-religious/interfaith ceremonies. Email michigan(at)centerforinquiry.org for information on Secular Celebrants located in Michigan.