There’s a lot of foofaraw going around the internet and Facebook these days reposting articles that claim the Oklahoma legislature is passing a bill that would ban atheists from getting married. See, for example, here, here and here. A slight variation on the theme is that the bill gives clergy sole power over marriage licenses, as claimed here.
All these articles have two features in common: 1) The writers are idiots; 2) none of them actually cite even one line from the bill. Don’t take my word for it, check their posts.
So what does the bill actually say? Here’s the actual text.. See, what none of these geniuses seem to understand is that you can actually look up the bill’s text, thanks to the same internet that allows them to write inane and misleading commentary.
Now to be slightly more fair than these writers deserve, a bit of the confusion stems from a previous version of the bill that deleted the authority of judges to perform ceremonies. That was a foolish bit that seems to have been a part of the author’s stated purpose of trying to protect state officials from having to participate in same-sex marriages. But as I’ll show you, judges are back in. It’s not sure just when that occurred, but some of the articles criticizing the bill are from January, which likely was before judges were put back in the bill, so I’ll give those folks a pass. Those writing more recently, though, are just passing on rumors without checking them.
Here’s what the bill really does: it ends the practice, in Oklahoma, of the state giving out marriage licenses, and changes that to the state just recording the existence of a marriage. So how does a marriage come into existence? In either of two ways, via a ceremony which then gets reported or via an affidavit of common law marriage.
Let’s look at the bill’s text, that any of the above lazy fool writers could have looked at but didn’t. First, the explanation of the bill’s purpose (redacted to focus on the relevant elements).
An Act relating to marriage licenses; …providing fee for recording marriage certificate or affidavit of common law marriage; deleting marriage license fee collection procedure;…deleting reference to marriage license;… allowing affidavit of common law marriage; providing for filing of affidavit with court clerk; … requiring execution of marriage certificate; … directing filing of certificate with court clerk; instructing court clerk to record certificate or affidavit;
Let’s break that down. The bill would add a fee for recording a marriage certificate or affidavit of common law marriage, because these are new things that don’t currently exist. It would delete the marriage license fee because the bill would get rid of the traditional marriage license. That is, instead of getting a license prior to getting married, if this bill passes, in Oklahoma you will just record a certificate of marriage or an affidavit of common law marriage after the fact. The following text from the bill makes even clearer that licenses would no longer be required.
No person herein authorized to perform or solemnize a
marriage ceremony shall do so
unless the license issued therefor be first delivered into his or her possession nor unless he or she has good reason to believe the persons presenting themselves before him or her for marriage are the identical persons named in the license, and for whose marriage the same was issued, and that if there is no a legal objection or impediment to such marriage.
Note here that all the language referencing a license is stricken, and all that remains is language specifying that there is no other legal reason why the couple cannot be married.
More importantly, the bill would instruct the clerk to record the certificate or affidavit. There would be no discretion on the part of the clerk–if someone brings in the certificate or the affidavit, the clerk must record the marriage. That is, if this bill passes, if you say you are married in Oklahoma, they’ll record you as being married.
Let’s dig in a little deeper. The initial criticisms of the bill came from the section specifying who can solemnize a wedding and transmit a marriage certificate to a clerk. And apparently–extrapolating from what I’ve read–the original version of the bill struck out judges and included only religious officials. I get the impression this was just bad drafting on the part of the sponsor, who wanted to protect judges from having a duty to perform same-sex marriages, on the expectation of the Supreme Court striking down bans, including Oklahoma’s constitutional ban on SSM (the law’s author is, it appears, an opponent of SSM, yet as I’ll show the bill would allow for SSM, once Oklahoma’s constitutional ban is either struck down or repealed). But the language now explicitly allows judges again [note: stricken out words are proposed deletions of current statutory language, while underlines are proposed additions]:
Section 7. A.
All Except as provided in subsection E of this section marriages must be contracted by a formal ceremony performed or solemnized in the presence of at least two adult, competent persons as witnesses, by a judge or retired judge of any court in this state, or an ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church to which he or she belongs to preach the Gospel, or a rabbi and who is at least eighteen (18) years of age.
Now I don’t care for this emphasis on religious dignitaries being specially mentioned as authorized to solemnize marriages, but note two things, please. First, that language is not underlined, meaning it is now new–that’s extant language in the law. Second, note that judges and retired judges are explicitly mentioned. You don’t need a religious person to perform your ceremony; if you’re virulently atheist and you can find a judge who’s happy to cash your check, you, too, can get married in Oklahoma.
But, wait, there’s more. Despite that irritating emphasis on religious persons, anyone can become ordained, and thanks to the First Amendment, the state of Oklahoma doesn’t get to pick and choose which religions really count. See here, for example. And believe me, the theology of on-line ordination is quite simple–all you have to believe is that the ordaining organization will happily cash your check and send you a certificate in return.
But wait, what about that “Except as provided in subsection E” bit? That’s a bit that’s even more friendly to the unchurched.
E. Marriages not contracted by a formal ceremony pursuant to subsection A of this section may be acknowledged by filing an affidavit of common law marriage with the court clerk. The affidavit of common law marriage shall be signed by both parties, notarized with official seal affixed and include:[Edit: appropriate identifying information, and] 4. That the parties are not disqualified from or incapable of entering into a common law marriage.
Don’t want a ceremony of any kind? Just hit the notary public then take your form to the clerk and the state will recognize your marriage. Or if you prefer a ceremony without even a pseudo-clergyman, have the ceremony, enjoy the reception, then hit the notary public, etc. This would be actually quite a simplification over the current status of common law marriage in Oklahoma.
And these common law marriages would be identical for all legal purposes to the ceremonially solemnized marriages.
B. Any entity requiring proof of identity or marital status shall accept a certified copy of the marriage certificate or affidavit of common law marriage that has been filed with the court clerk. Any reference in the Oklahoma Statutes requiring a marriage license as proof of identity or marital status shall be interpreted to include a marriage certificate or affidavit of common law marriage executed on or after November 1, 2015.
So there you have it. If anything, this bill would make it even easier for atheists to get married in Oklahoma simply by submitting a notarized affidavit, if they object to even having to nod toward religion to the extent of having an officiant from a totally make-believe church that doesn’t really ask its pseudo-ministers to believe in anything at all.
So, can we all just take a deep breath and quit panicking, please?