The Need for Secular Celebrants in Michigan


Download a PDF Version of this Page

A couple’s wedding day is one of the most important of their lives. Center for Inquiry feels that every couple should be able to choose a celebrant to officiate their marriage ceremony who represents and respects their beliefs, and in a manner that reflects who they are.

What does a marriage celebrant do in Michigan?

A celebrant performs the wedding service and, subject to Michigan law, solemnizes the wedding by signing and filing the marriage license. It is by that act that a couple becomes legally married.

Who can currently solemnize marriages in Michigan?

While anyone can perform a wedding ceremony, Michigan law restricts those who are permitted to solemnize the marriage by signing the marriage license and making the marriage legally effective. Under MCL §551.7, marriages may only be solemnized by certain public officials, predominantly judges, mayors, and county clerks, or a “minister of the gospel or cleric or religious practitioner.”1 Under current law Secular Celebrants cannot legally solemnize marriages.

Who benefits when Secular Celebrants are recognized in Michigan?

In short, everyone! Recognizing Secular Celebrants would expand the options available to Michiganders in celebrating their marriage, not limit anyone who currently holds that right.

  1. Couples seeking a marriage celebrant: Couples want a person who reflects and respects their values to officiate what is often the most important day of their lives. More than 80% of marriages occur between the ages of 18 and 40, and in this age group, more than 35% of the population has no religious affiliation.2,3 They deserve to be able to choose a celebrant who shares their belief system. Also, Americans are increasingly marrying people of different faiths, and interfaith couples often wish to choose a non-religious officiant.
    By recognizing Secular Celebrants, those seeking a non-religious celebrant will no longer have to choose a public official who may not be able to perform the service when, where, and how they want, or be required to have two wedding ceremonies: one with the celebrant of choice and one with a celebrant with the legal power to solemnize the marriage.
  2. LGBTQ Couples: With the legalization of same sex marriages the need for Secular Celebrants is even more important, as many religious officiants do not wish to solemnize such unions. Secular Celebrants provide an option for same sex couples to marry without religious officiants feeling obligated to do so.
  3. Secular Celebrants: CFI trained Secular Celebrants will be allowed to solemnize marriages in Michigan. Secular Celebrants undergo this training in preparation to share and contribute in a meaningful way to the lives of their fellow Michiganders. By giving them the authority to solemnize marriages, the state of Michigan demonstrates that Secular Celebrants are valued equally with the state’s other celebrants.
  4. Religious Officiants: Because Secular Celebrants cannot solemnize marriages, many feel they have no alternative but to falsely claim to be religious, and undergo an online ordination. There is no justification for requiring an individual to violate his or her beliefs in this way in order to solemnize marriages. With Secular Celebrants as an option, religious celebrants will no longer be requested to solemnize marriages for non-believers or LGBTQ couples. Respect for religious belief dictates that couples should not pretend to be religious simply to be able to have someone solemnize their marriage. Nor should a religious individual feel they should have to solemnize a marriage that goes against their beliefs.
  5. Michigan Businesses and Taxpayers: More options for couples to have the wedding of their choice in Michigan mean more weddings. This brings revenue into the state, and provides customers for businesses providing wedding services.
What is the current legal status of Secular Celebrants in Michigan?

Currently Secular Celebrants cannot legally solemnize marriages under Michigan law.

After years of unsuccessful attempts to resolve this situation legislatively, CFI filed suit in 2018 against the clerk of Kent county, and the state of Michigan is defending the suit. We believe that the Michigan marriage statute is unconstitutional under the federal constitution. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has already accepted this argument, and courts have ruled in favor of CFI in Indiana and Illinois. At this time, we are awaiting a decision on the motion to dismiss filed by the state. Based on the precedent from the Seventh Circuit, we have no doubt CFI will prevail in this action. However, each day the case continues increases the bill that Kent County and the state of Michigan will have to pay CFI’s attorneys.

The Michigan legislature can remedy this discrimination by amending the law, simply by adding “Secular Celebrants” as an additional category to MCL §551.7. This small change would give Michiganders the freedom and equal rights to celebrate their marriage with the wedding and celebrant of their choice.

Such a change would not prevent anyone currently able to solemnize marriages from continuing to do so, rather it would expand the options available to Michiganders by permitting a further group of trained celebrants to offer their services in Michigan.

Please help us in ensuring that all Michiganders can have the wedding of their dreams.

Contact:
Nicholas Little, CFI Vice President /General Counsel, nlittle(at)centerforinquiry.org
Jennifer Beahan, Executive Director, CFI Michigan, jbeahan(at)centerforinquiry.org

Citations:

  1. Michigan Marriage Statute MCL §551.7: http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?mcl-551-7
  2. Average Age of Marriage in the US (2016): https://flowingdata.com/2016/03/03/marrying-age/
  3. Pew Religious Landscape Study (2014): https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/age-distribution/