Bill Takes Marriage Out Of State's Hands

"Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second."

Oklahoma House Bill 1125 was drafted to take away the issuing of marriage licenses by county clerks and hand the job over to clergy, essentially removing government from the marriage process altogether.

Authored by State Rep. Todd Russ, the bill passed one week ago with 67-24 House member approval. Now it's up to the state senate to pass it as law.

The language of the bill states the updated requirements on the issuance of the certificates:

[M]arriages 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.

Marriages between persons belonging to the society called Friends, or Quakers, the spiritual assembly of the Baha'is, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or other assemblies which have no ordained minister, may be solemnized by the persons and in the manner prescribed by and practiced in any such society, church, or assembly.

The person performing or solemnizing the marriage ceremony shall, immediately upon the completion of the ceremony, execute a marriage certificate…

Speaking to The Oklahoman, Russ said, "Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second. Under my bill, the state is not allowing or disallowing same-sex marriage. It is simply leaving it up to the clergy.”

LGBT activists aren't happy about the bill. The executive director of Freedom Oklahoma, Troy Stevenson, is speaking out. He told The Oklahoman, "This legislation puts all couples who plan to marry in Oklahoma at risk of being denied hundreds of federal legal rights and protections, if it were to become law." He added, "The federal government and other states will not be required to acknowledge these proposed ‘marriage certificates.’ This legislation will only result in mass confusion from clerks’ offices to courtrooms around the nation — while putting Oklahoma families at risk.”

Russ spoke with Reason.com and expressed confusion over the objections to his bill. He said, "I'm not picking a fight with them. I'm not their judge. I didn't go there." He continued saying he is not trying to "perpetuate the conflict" and said the citizens of Oklahoma "wouldn't even notice a difference."

Other concerns, marked by OklahomaWatch.org, include worry over "unintended consequences," such as an increase in ordinary citizens rushing online to become ordained ministers. Also noted is the language in the bill that states, "No person herein authorized to perform or solemnize a marriage ceremony shall do so if there is a legal objection or impediment to such marriage." That could prove to be shaky ground if Oklahoma's constitutional ban on homosexual marriage stays.

One state Democrat wants to leave marriage in the hands of government; Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman said, "We appreciate the fact that the state serves as the gate keeper for marriage."

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