Fairfax judge finds state law on marriage celebrants unconstitutional

A Virginia law governing marriage celebrants unfairly discriminates against religions, such as Sikhism, that do not have ordained ministers, a Fairfax County judge has ruled.

Under state law, non-ordained ministers must post a $500 bond before performing a wedding, while ordained ministers such as in religions like Judaism and Catholicism do not. The law also restricts congregations that don’t have ordained ministers to one marriage celebrant.

Circuit Court Chief Judge Dennis J. Smith said the law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Four Sikh men who were seeking authorization to perform marriages for their congregations challenged the law, after the state required them to put up the $500 bond. Sikhism is a non-hierachical religion that does not have ordained clergy.

The men were represented by the ACLU.

“This ruling recognizes that all religions are equal before the law,” said ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca Glenberg. “It is now up to the General Assembly to fix these statutes, which treat religions differently based on whether they have ordained clergy.”

Smith’s ruling does not strike down the Virginia law, but will likely serve as a touchstone if other judges rule on similar cases around the state.

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