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Friday, June 21, 2024 | Back issues
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ACLU Challenges Nevada’s Marriage Law

LAS VEGAS (CN) - The ACLU has challenged Nevada's "marriage solemnization provisions," calling unconstitutional a state law that bans anyone without a religious affiliation from solemnizing marriages.

The ACLU sued in Federal Court on behalf of five people - three who are not affiliated with a mainstream religion but who want to solemnize marriages, and a couple who want a non-secular wedding.

"This is an action ... to address the unconstitutional policy and practice of the State of Nevada and Clark County to violate the constitutional rights of those wishing to solemnize marriages and those wishing to get married in a place of their own choosing, solemnized by a person without religious affiliation, in the state of Nevada."

Under state law, aside from a minister, the only other people to whom the state will grant the authority to solemnize marriages are "certain governmental officials," including Supreme Court justices, district court justices, justices of the peace, municipal judges and the commissioner and deputy commissioner of civil marriages," the lawsuit states.

Anyone "without such religious affiliation are specifically prohibited from obtaining such certificate," the lawsuit states.

The ACLU says the law violates the Establishment clause of the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Plaintiffs Raul Martinez and Michael Jacobson are members of the American Humanist Association, and say they their applications for a "permanent certification of authority to solemnize marriages by the Clark County Clerk's Office" were twice denied.

Plaintiff Paula Newman says she wants to solemnize weddings, but because she is not affiliated with a mainstream religious organization, has decided not to file because she is "certain it will be denied."

Plaintiffs Claire Liechtenstein and Wesley Wertz are Clark County residents who want to have an outdoor "secular ceremony in a romantic location of their choosing; however, because the current law grants the authority to solemnize marriages to only a handful of non-religiously affiliated state officials, they are having extreme difficulty finding a secular individual to perform their solemnization ceremony."

The ACLU seeks a declaration that the state laws are unconstitutional, and wants the state to stop "using any religious test or criteria in issuing certificates allowing persons to solemnize marriages."

The lawsuit was filed by Allen Lichtenstein, the ACLU of Nevada's general counsel.

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