Judge Voids VA Restrictions on Who Can Perform Marriages

Many religions don't have ordained clergy


Fairfax County, VA – Representatives of religions that do not have ordained ministers must be permitted to perform marriages on the same basis as ministers, priests, rabbis, and other ordained clergy, Chief Judge Dennis J. Smith of the Circuit Court of Fairfax County ruled on Friday.  According to the ruling, Virginia laws that impose special requirements on religions that do not have ordained ministers are unconstitutional.

"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."

"The General Assembly should use the opportunity afforded by this ruling to review carefully all of the laws governing the solemnization of civil marriage in Virginia," said Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, Executive Director of the ACLU of Virginia.  "Currently, the law conflates the religious "rite" of marriage with civil marriage.  In addition to the unconstitutional religious distinctions at issue in this case, the Virginia Code makes it a crime for a faith leader to use the word "marriage" in a purely religious ceremony if the celebrants do not have a license from the state.  This is a clear violation of the First Amendment protections of religious free exercise."