Marriage Bill Would Not Eliminate State Involvement

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M. Scott Carter

M. Scott Carter

M. Scott Carter reports on politics, legislation and other issues from the State Capitol.

While supporters say House Bill 1125 would eliminate state-issued marriage licenses, public oversight of those marriages would continue, even if the licenses are no longer issued.

Currently, state law requires religious officials and others who officiate at marriage ceremonies to register with county officials before a marriage certificate can be considered valid.

“For a marriage to be valid, the law requires the marriage to be officiated by a member of the clergy or other person who has registered with the county,” said Joe Woods, an employee of the Oklahoma County Court Clerk’s office.

Woods said individuals who want to officiate marriage ceremonies must present their ordination certificate or letters of good standing to the county clerk’s office. Once the credentials are filed, the clerk issues an identification number. That number must be listed on the license of each marriage the individual presides over, he said. Wood said the number is valid in all of the state’s 77 counties.

HB 1125 would change that. Authored by state Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, the bill eliminates marriage licenses and widens a loophole that allows online groups to ordain minsters who can then register and legally perform marriage ceremonies.

Current state law allows representatives of secular entities and religious officials “of any denomination who has been duly ordained or authorized by the church” to register with a county.

HB 1125 bill would strengthen that language by allowing representatives “of other assemblies” to preside at wedding ceremonies.

In Tulsa, Paula Scheider was ordained two years ago. But Scheider, who makes her living as a corporate trainer, wasn’t ordained by a mainstream church – instead, she was ordained by the Church of The Latter-Day Dude, a website inspired by the movie, “The Big Lebowski.”

Scheider said she went to the church’s website, filled out the form and received her certificate of ordination. Scheider said she “made her ordination official” by going to the Tulsa County Court Clerk’s office and registering her paperwork.

“I’ve performed eight marriages so far,” she said. “I want to help several of my friends.”

Scheider said she has another wedding ceremony scheduled next month.

A posting on the, where Scheider received her ordination paperwork, indicates that more than 220,000 individuals across the globe have been ordained by the organization.

Another organization, the Universal Life Church, offers the same service. Neither website charges a fee for ordination. The Universal Life Church says millions of people have used its website to become “legally ordained ministers.”

While getting the certificate of ordination is easy – Scheider said it took her about five minutes – that certificate must still be filed with a county’s court clerk’s office.

Scheider said she got her ordination because she wanted to help several friends of hers who wanted same-sex weddings.

Russ said he wrote the measure to push back against a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex marriages in Oklahoma.

“The federal government will have to think of something else to push us around over if the bill passes into law,” Russ said in a media statement. “The goal of this bill is to get government out of marriage. It has no business sanctioning what has traditionally been a faith-based covenant throughout history.”

At least one religious leader says he’s concerned HB 1125 could “break down the separation of church and state.”

“It’s troublesome,” said William Tabbernee, executive director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches. “I think there could be many unintended consequences.”

The measure also contains language that would prevent marriages “if there is a legal objection or impediment to such marriage.”

The Democratic leader in the Oklahoma House called the bill a knee-jerk reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

“We appreciate the fact that the state serves as the gate keeper for marriage,” said House Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City.

Inman said he was concerned that more residents could go online and get a license “for a few bucks,” allowing them to officiate at marriage ceremonies.

HB 1125 passed the Oklahoma House, 67-24. The measure now goes to the Senate.