Marriage Solemnization: Religious Exemption Statutes

5/11/2017

Same-sex marriage has prompted states to examine the protections for religious officials and others who are authorized to solemnize marriages and their right to refuse to solemnize a marriage based on their religious beliefs. In the states where same-sex marriage was legalized through statute before the Obergefell v. Hodges U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015, the laws included language exempting religious officials from having to solemnize a marriage that goes against their religious beliefs. Those states include: Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

After the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage across the country, other states are including specific protections for religious officials. In 2015, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Texas and Utah passed laws exempting religious officials or others from having to solemnize marriages.  Florida and Mississippi passed legislation in 2016 that will take effect July 1, 2016. Governors in Georgia and Virginia vetoed bills passed by the state legislature in 2016. The enacted laws are listed in the table below.

Mississippi, North Carolina and Utah included language addressing concerns around public officials and allowing them to recuse themselves from participating in a marriage that is counter to their religious beliefs. The North Carolina law is being challenged in court.

The box allows you to conduct a full text search or type the state name.

Marriage Solemnization Religious Exemption Statutes

State

Statute

Summary

Connecticut

Sec. 46b-22.
(Formerly Sec. 46-3)


Senate Bill No. 899

Public Act No. 09-13

 

Sec. 7. (NEW) (Effective from passage) (a) No member of the clergy authorized to join persons in marriage pursuant to section 46b-22 of the general statutes shall be required to solemnize any marriage in violation of his or her right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the first amendment to the United States Constitution or section 3 of article first of the Constitution of the state. (b) No church or qualified church-controlled organization, as defined in 26 USC 3121, shall be required to participate in a ceremony solemnizing a marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of that church or qualified church-controlled organization.

Sec. 17. (NEW) (Effective from passage) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage and such solemnization or celebration is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action, or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.

Sec. 18. (NEW) (Effective from passage) The marriage laws of this state shall not be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of members as provided in section 38a-598 of the general statutes or to determine the scope of beneficiaries in accordance with section 38a-636 of the general statutes, and shall not require a fraternal benefit society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the fraternal benefit society's free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States and section 3 of article first of the Constitution of the state. Sec. 19. (NEW) (Effective from passage) Nothing in this act shall be deemed or construed to affect the manner in which a religious organization may provide adoption, foster care or social services if such religious organization does not receive state or federal funds for that specific program or purpose.

Delaware

Section 2. Amend §106, Title 13
§ 106. Solemnization of marriages; production of license; penalty; registration of persons authorized to solemnize marriages.

2013 HB 75

(e)  Other than as provided in this subsection, nothing in this section shall be construed to require any person (including any clergyperson or minister of any religion) authorized to solemnize a marriage to solemnize any marriage, and no such authorized person who fails or refuses for any reason to solemnize a marriage shall be subject to any fine or other penalty for such failure or refusal.  Notwithstanding the preceding sentence, a clerk of the peace who issues a marriage license, or a deputy thereof, shall be required to perform a solemnization of such marriage if requested by the applicants for such license.

District of Columbia

D.C. Official Code § 46-406

2013 Bill 20-118

(e) (1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious society, or a nonprofit organization that is operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, facilities, or goods for a purpose related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage through religious programs, counseling, courses, or retreats, that is in violation of the religious society's beliefs.

Florida
761.061
2016 HB 43, Chapter 2016-50
Section 1. Section 761.061, Provides that churches or religious organizations, related organizations, or certain individuals may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for related purposes if such action would violate sincerely held religious belief; prohibits certain legal actions, penalties, or governmental sanctions against such individuals or entities.
Georgia
2016 HB 757 Vetoed Protects religious freedoms; to amend Chapter 3 of Title 19 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to marriage generally, so as to provide that religious officials shall not be required to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their legal right to free exercise of religion; to amend Chapter 1 of Title 10 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to selling and other trade practices, so as to change certain provisions relating to days of rest for employees of business and industry; to protect property owners which are religious institutions against infringement of religious freedom; to define a term; to provide an effective date; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.
Hawaii

§572-F Refusal to solemnize a marriage.  
Report SB1_SSCR1_

2013 SB1, HD1-Act 001

 (a)  Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require any person authorized to perform solemnizations pursuant to this chapter to solemnize any marriage in violation of their right to free exercise of religion guaranteed by the Hawaii State Constitution and the United States Constitution.  No such authorized person who fails or refuses to solemnize any marriage under this section shall be subject to any fine, penalty, or other civil action for the failure or refusal.

Illinois

750 ILCS 5/209) (from Ch. 40, par. 209)

 

2013 SB 10

Public Act 098-0597

Sec. 209 (a-5) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require any religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, to solemnize any marriage. Instead, any religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as representative of a religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group is free to choose which marriages it will solemnize. Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, a refusal by a religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group, or any minister, clergy, or officiant acting as a representative of a religious denomination or Indian Nation or Tribe or Native Group to solemnize any marriage under this Act shall not create or be the basis for any civil, administrative, or criminal penalty, claim, or cause of action.

Maine

2012 IB0003
LD 1860, Chapter 1

Sec. 4. 19-A MRSA §655, sub-§3 is enacted to read: 3. Religious exemption. This chapter does not require any member of the clergy to perform or any church, religious denomination or other religious institution to host any marriage in violation of the religious beliefs of that member of the clergy, church, religious denomination or other religious institution. The refusal to perform or host a marriage under this subsection cannot be the basis for a lawsuit or liability and does not affect the tax-exempt status of the church, religious denomination or other religious institution.

Maine

Title 19-A: DOMESTIC RELATIONS HEADING: PL 1995, C. 694, PT. B, §2

SP0384 LD 1020,
Public Law, Chapter 82

Sec. 5. 19-A MRSA §655, sub-§3 is enacted to read: 3. Affirmation of religious freedom.   This Part does not authorize any court or other state or local governmental body, entity, agency or commission to compel, prevent or interfere in any way with any religious institution's religious doctrine, policy, teaching or solemnization of marriage within that particular religious faith's tradition as guaranteed by the Maine Constitution, Article 1, Section 3 or the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. A person authorized to join persons in marriage and who fails or refuses to join persons in marriage is not subject to any fine or other penalty for such failure or refusal.

Maryland

§2–406(a)(2)(i)
of the Family Law Article


2012 HB 438 Chapter 2

SECTION 3. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That: (a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization, association, or society, may not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for the services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to: (1) the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage that is in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs; or (2) the promotion of marriage through any social or religious programs or services, in violation of the entity’s religious beliefs, unless State or federal funds are received for that specific program or service. (b) A refusal by an entity described in subsection (a) of this section, or of any individual who is employed by an entity described in subsection (a) of this section, to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges in accordance with subsection (a) of this section may not create a civil claim or cause of action or result in any State action to penalize, withhold benefits from, or discriminate against the entity or individual. (c) Nothing in this Act shall be deemed or construed to prohibit any religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by a religious organization, association, or society, from limiting admission to or giving preferences to individuals of the same religion or denomination when otherwise permitted by law.

Minnesota

§517.09

2013, HF 1054,
Chapter 74

517.09 SOLEMNIZATION. Subdivision 1. General. Subd. 2. Refusal to solemnize; protection of religious doctrine. Each religious organization, association, or society has exclusive control over its own theological doctrine, policy, teachings, and beliefs regarding who may marry within that faith. A licensed or ordained member of the clergy or other person authorized by section 517.04 to solemnize a civil marriage is not subject to any fine, penalty, or civil liability for failing or refusing to solemnize a civil marriage for any reason. Subd. 3. Refusal to participate or support solemnization; protection of religious belief. (a) Except for secular business activities engaged in by a religious association, religious corporation, or religious society, the conduct of which is unrelated to the religious and educational purposes for which it is organized, no religious association, religious corporation, or religious society shall be required to provide goods or services at the solemnization or celebration of any civil marriage or be subject to civil liability or any action by the state that penalizes, fines, or withholds any benefit to the religious association, religious corporation, or religious society under the laws of this state, including, but not limited to, laws regarding tax exempt status, for failing or refusing to provide goods or services at the solemnization or celebration of any civil marriage, if providing such goods or services would cause the religious association, religious corporation, or religious society to violate their sincerely held religious beliefs. (b) The exception in paragraph (a) applies to employees, agents, and volunteers acting within the capacity of their employment or responsibilities with a religious association, religious corporation, or religious society.

Mississippi
2016 House Bill 1523
Signed by Governor 
 

"Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act."

SECTION 3.

(1) The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization wholly or partially on the basis that such organization: (a) Solemnizes or declines to solemnize any marriage, or provides or declines to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, celebration or recognition of any marriage, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act; 8)  (a)  Any person employed or acting on behalf of the state government who has authority to authorize or license marriages, including, but not limited to, clerks, registers of deeds or their deputies, may seek recusal from authorizing or licensing lawful marriages based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act.  Any person making such recusal shall provide prior written notice to the State Registrar of Vital Records who shall keep a record of such recusal, and the state government shall not take any discriminatory action against that person wholly or partially on the basis of such recusal.  The person who is recusing himself or herself shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the authorization and licensing of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal. (b)  Any person employed or acting on behalf of the state government who has authority to perform or solemnize marriages, including, but not limited to, judges, magistrates, justices of the peace or their deputies, may seek recusal from performing or solemnizing lawful marriages based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act.  Any person making such recusal shall provide prior written notice to the Administrative Office of Courts, and the state government shall not take any discriminatory action against that person wholly or partially on the basis of such recusal.  The Administrative Office of Courts shall take all necessary steps to ensure that the performance or solemnization of any legally valid marriage is not impeded or delayed as a result of any recusal.

New Hampshire

TITLE XLIII DOMESTIC RELATIONS CHAPTER 457 MARRIAGES Solemnization of Marriage, Section 457:37

2009 HB 436,
Chapter 59

59:4 Affirmation of Freedom of Religion in Marriage. RSA 457:37 is repealed and reenacted to read as follows: 457:37 Affirmation of Freedom of Religion in Marriage. Members of the clergy as described in RSA 457:31 or other persons otherwise authorized under law to solemnize a marriage shall not be obligated or otherwise required by law to officiate at any particular civil marriage or religious rite of marriage in violation of their right to free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution or by part I, article 5 of the New Hampshire constitution.

New York

§§10-a & 10-b, and §§13 & 11, Dom Rel L (does not link directly to stat.)

2011 A8354,
Chapter 95

Section 10-b. Application. 1. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, pursuant to subdivision nine of section two hundred ninety-two of the executive law, a corporation incorporated under the benevolent orders law or described in the benevolent orders law but formed under any other law of this state or a religious corporation incorporated under the education law or the religious corporations laws shall be deemed to be in its nature distinctly private and therefore, shall not be required to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. 2. A refusal by a benevolent organization or a religious corporation, incorporated under the education law or the religious corporations law, to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges in connection with section ten-a of this article shall not create a civil claim or cause of action.

North Carolina
§ 51-5.5. Recusal of certain public officials.

2015 Senate Bill 2, Chapter 2015-75

SECTION 1. Article 1 of Chapter 51 of the General Statutes is amended by adding a new section to read: "§ 51-5.5. Recusal of certain public officials. Allows magistrates, assistant registers of deeds, and deputy registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing duties related to marriage ceremonies due to a sincerely held religious objection; prohibits disciplinary action for a good faith recusal; provides that the chief district court judge shall ensure that all individuals issued a marriage license seeking to be married before a magistrate may marry.

Oklahoma

Title 43, Section 7.1

2015 House Bill 1007, Chapter 204

Section 7.1 Relates to marriage; prohibits requiring a religious official to solemnize a marriage that violates their conscience or religious beliefs; provides for civil immunity from any civil claim or cause of action based on such refusal.
Rhode Island

TITLE 15 Domestic Relations CHAPTER 15-3 Solemnization of Marriages, SECTION 15-3-6.1

2013 S 0038 Substitute A, Chapter 5

 

Section 4. Chapter 15-3 (c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religions organization, association, or society, and any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by a religious organization, association or society, or a fraternal benefit or service organization that has among its stated purposes the promotion and support or protection of a religious organization, association or society and that restricts membership to practicing members of that religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to: (1) The solemnization of a marriage or the celebration of a marriage, and such solemnization or celebration is in violation of its religious beliefs and faith; or (2) The promotion of marriage through any social or religious programs or services, which violates the religious doctrine or teachings of religious organization, association or society. Any refusal by an entity described above or an officer, employee or member thereof acting in an official capacity on behalf of that entity to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges in accordance with this subsection shall not create any civil claim or cause of action. This subsection shall not be construed to limit a religious organization, association, or society, or a fraternal benefit or service organization as described in this subsection, from selectively providing services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to some individuals with respect to solemnization or celebration of a marriage but not to others.

Texas
Family Code, Chapter 2, Sec.2.601 Rights of Certain Religious Exemptions

2015 Senate Bill 2065
 
SUBCHAPTER G. Freedom of Religion with Respect to Recognizing or Performing Certain Marriages.
Sec.A2.601.AA RIGHTS OF CERTAIN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS. A religious organization, an organization supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization, an individual employed by a religious organization while acting in the scope of that employment, or a clergy or minister may not be required to solemnize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges for a purpose related to the solemnization, formation, or celebration of any marriage if the action would cause the organization or individual to violate a sincerely held religious belief.
Sec.A2.602.AA DISCRIMINATION AGAINST RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION PROHIBITED. A refusal to provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods, or privileges under Section 2.601 is not the basis for a civil or criminal cause of action or any other action by this state or a political subdivision of this state to penalize or withhold benefits or privileges, including tax exemptions or governmental contracts, grants, or licenses, from any protected organization or individual.
Utah
Chapter 20, Part 1, General Provisions

2015, Senate Bill 297
 
Provides certain protections and remedies for individuals, religious officials, religious organizations, and government officers and employees concerning the free exercise of religion and religious or deeply held beliefs about marriage, family, and sexuality. Requires a county clerk, or a willing designee of the county clerk, to be available during business hours to solemnize a legal marriage; removes a requirement that a designee for solemnizing marriages be an office employee; creates a new chapter to establish certain religious protections; defines terms; requires that the chapter be broadly construed in favor of broad protection of religious beliefs, exercises, and conscience; addresses the scope of state and local governments' authority to enforce certain laws; provides protections for a religious official or organization that declines to solemnize or recognize for ecclesiastical purposes a marriage because of the official's or organization's religious beliefs; prohibits government from: removing a religious official's or organization's authority to solemnize a marriage based on religious beliefs; requiring a religious official or organization to provide services or accommodations for a marriage that is contrary to the official's or organization's religious beliefs; requiring a religious official or organization to promote marriage that is contrary to the official's or organization's religious beliefs; and retaliating against an individual, a religious official, or a religious organization for exercising protections contained in this legislation; prohibits government and a government officials from taking negative action against a licensee who holds a professional or business license based on the licensee's beliefs or the licensee's lawful expression of those beliefs in a nonprofessional setting; prohibits an individual from requiring a religious official or organization to provide services or accommodations for a marriage that is contrary to the official's or organization's religious beliefs; provides remedies for violations; and provides a severability clause and revisor instructions.
Vermont

§4502. Public Accommodations

2009 SB 115, Act 3

Sec. 11. 9 V.S.A. § 4502 is amended to read: § 4502. Public Accommodations. ( l ) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association, or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to an individual if the request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage or celebration of a marriage. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges in accordance with this subsection shall not create any civil claim or cause of action. This subsection shall not be construed to limit a religious organization, association, or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised, or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization from selectively providing services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges to some individuals with respect to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage but not to others. 

Washington

Title 26 RCW 26.04.010

2012 SB 6239,
Chapter 3

 

Sec. 1. RCW 26.04.010 and 1998 c 1 s 3 are each amended to read as follows: (4) No regularly licensed or ordained minister or any priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any religious organization is required to solemnize or recognize any marriage. A regularly licensed or ordained minister or priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any religious organization shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action based on a refusal to solemnize or recognize any marriage under this section. No state agency or local government may base a decision to penalize, withhold benefits from, or refuse to contract with any religious organization on the refusal of a person associated with such religious organization to solemnize or recognize a marriage under this section. (5) No religious organization is required to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, services, or goods related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage. (6) A religious organization shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action, including a claim pursuant to chapter 49.60 RCW, based on its refusal to provide accommodations, facilities, advantages, privileges, services, or goods related to the solemnization or celebration of a marriage


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NCSL staff track state legislative and judicial decisions on same-sex marriage and provide assistance to legislators on these issues.

For further information, please contact: Rochelle Finzel at rochelle.finzel@ncsl.org

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