Simple solutions to stupid problems, part 2: By The Power Vested In Me edition

Reporting from Las Vegas — In a city launched by shotgun weddings and quickie divorces, and which offers the chance to be wed by faux Liberaces, King Tuts and Grim Reapers, there remains at least one nuptial taboo: You can’t be married by an atheist.

Michael Jacobson, a 64-year-old retiree who calls himself a lifelong atheist, tried this year to get a license to perform weddings. Clark County rejected his application because he had no ties to a congregation, as state law requires.

So Jacobson and attorneys from two national secular groups — the American Humanist Assn. and the Center for Inquiry — are trying to change things. If they can’t persuade the state Legislature to rework the law, they plan to sue.

. . .

When Lipman and his wife moved to Florida this spring, Jacobson — a balding man with a thin, white mustache and a trace of his native Philadelphia in his voice — decided to become the local atheist celebrant.

But I’m not going to do it by saying I belong to a religious organization, he said. That’s a sham, because atheists are not religious.

Jacobson filled out an application to perform marriages, but sidestepped the questions on religion. County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre said she had little choice but to reject it.

As Nevada law requires, all of the county’s 2,500 or so licensed officiants are connected to a congregation — though some are as small as two people, Parraguirre said. (Judges and commissioners of civil marriages can also lead ceremonies.)

Some of the state’s regulations hark back to the 1960s, when ministers were dumping their flocks to become wealthy Marrying Sams, according to the book Las Vegas: An Unconventional History. One would-be officiant apparently hoped to marry enough people to finance his divorce.

Lawmakers, trying to ferret out the profit-hungry, said weddings must be among a minister’s incidental duties. Drive past the string of neon-lighted downtown chapels, and you’ll see that didn’t quite pan out.

Clark County issues nearly 100,000 marriage licenses a year and boasts dozens of places to exchange vows — atop Harley-Davidsons, in Renaissance costumes, aboard gondolas — 24 hours a day. The competition is so fierce that in recent years, employees at rival chapels have accused one another of slashing tires and shouting death threats. Someone is working at all of these chapels, said Parraguirre, whose office doesn’t have the resources to track down ministers flouting the law. In fact, she worries that if the criteria to become an officiant changes, her staff will be bombarded with people coming in and just doing it for a job.

. . .

Judges performing ceremonies, for example, don’t have to meet religious criteria, so it’s absurd to make anyone else do so, [Lynne Henderson, a law professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas] said. Officials could regulate celebrants in other ways, such as making them get training.

— Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times (2008-12-14): Atheist may sue if law on Las Vegas officiants won’t change

Let’s suppose it’s true that County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre’s office just hasn’t got the resources to deal with all the applications that would bombard them if Nevada did away its mandates for state discrimination against religiously unconventional marriages. It seems to me there’s a simple solution: save County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre the work by abolishing the laws that require wedding officiants to get a license from the State in the first place. If there’s no licensure requirement, there will be no discrimination lawsuits, and also no applications to bombard poor County Clerk Shirley Parraguirre.

If your Elvis-impersonating streetside neon-chapel minister’s motives are really focused on making a living rather than on serving the Lord, who cares? Couples who want a religiously serious wedding will presumably go to a church or temple or mosque where they can get one.

If your Starfleet-uniformed Captain of the Starship of Love hasn’t had some State-sanctioned course of training (training in what?), who cares? Couples who want to vet their celebrants for training or competency will do so.

Even if you think that the State has some legitimate business using a licensing system to pick and choose which marriages it will or will not recognize (I don’t), what possible purpose can it serve to require not only the couple, but also the third party that they hire to officiate — whose only legal function is to witness the vows and attest that these folks mean what they say — to get specially vetted and licensed by the State? Really, seriously, bureaucratic rationality aside, who could possibly care, and why?

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8 replies to Simple solutions to stupid problems, part 2: By The Power Vested In Me edition Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Bob Kaercher

    “Michael Jacobson, a 64-year-old retiree who calls himself a lifelong atheist, tried this year to get a license to perform weddings. Clark County rejected his application because he had no ties to a congregation, as state law requires.”

    Well you see, that’s just another example of the ongoing assault on religion in this country. What? Oh, wait…

    “Someone is working at all of these chapels,” said Parraguirre, whose office doesn’t have the resources to track down ministers flouting the law. In fact, she worries that if the criteria to become an officiant changes, her staff will be “bombarded with people coming in and just doing it for a job.”

    Holy crap! Officiating weddings as a…gulp…”job”???? Like, people who will perform a desired service in exchange for money??? Omigod!!! Then next it’ll be dogs and cats, living together…!

    But seriously, my wife and I always sort of regretted that we didn’t just hop a plane to Vegas to get married by a “Starfleet-uniformed Captain of the Starship of Love.” Now those would have been some groovy wedding pics.

  2. Mike Gogulski

    The Universal Life Church still does ordinations for free. I enjoy being a minister so much, I’ve been ordained twice!

  3. Gabriel

    On a completely different note, I found out where the term ‘thug’ comes from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thuggee

    The original ‘thugs’ were a private, pirate-like band that ruthlessly slaughtered peaceful travellers to rob them. (The movie “Temple of Doom” featured a Thuggee band as villains.) Ironically, the British state got rid of them by anarchistic means, i.e. disseminating information about Thuggee tactics and timing so travelers could prepare themselves against attacks.

— 2009 —

  1. Rad Geek

    Bob,

    The bad news is, Vegas’s Starship of Love has been grounded. You used to be able to get married by a Starfleet officer on the bridge of the Enterprise D. I think when I was there, I also saw an advertisement for the option of having the ceremony in a Borg cube set (?! creepy…) but I’m having trouble finding confirmation of that on the Internet. But the Star Trek Experience’s ten-year mission has now come to an end.

    The good news is, they may be reopening again over on Fremont Street (which I like better than the Strip, anyway), so they may be around when/if you should decide to plan a renewal of vows or something of the sort.

    Mike,

    My understanding is that the law in Nevada, unlike the law in many states, would prevent you from end-running it through a ULC ordination, because to qualify in Nevada you’re supposed to have a congregation and the marrying circuit is supposed to be an incidental duty in the course of tending to your flock. Of course, here in Vegas, marrying ministers fake it in various ways to get around that. But it does involve a fair amount more work to convince the state that you count as an officially sanctioned member of the Nevada State Matrimonial Guard than it does in some other states.

  2. Spurwing Plover

    There no doubpt that evil men like MICHEAL JACOBSON and RICHARD DAWKINS want to for this scular humanism on us all their as sinister as men like KARL MARX and his evil followers like JOE SLATIN and FIDEL CASTRO

  3. Roderick T. Long

    I’m glad to see that some people are still alert to the evil of Joe Slatin.

  4. Nick Manley

    Marx never said he was a Marxist…

    Not that that means the funnily named Joe Slatin doesn’t have some similar ideas ( :

  5. Gabriel

    Married on a Borg ship…? What do they do, give the new couple cybertronic implants so they can share their thoughts and be at one with their inner collective? Give them mechanical pincers for more dexterous repair of faulty warp plasma relays? 0_o

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