Apologies for my brief silence – things have been busy, so I’m providing a brief update. I hope to get back to some writing for this blog soon. Here’s what I’ve been up to.
First, I’ve been doing some other writing, such as this piece I wrote for the Ex-Communications blog on the Patheos network, a guest blog run by Recovering from Religion (a great organization I volunteer with). In it, I talk about my process of deconverting from Christianity through an extended metaphor (because that’s how my literary-minded brain works, apparently). It’s a little different than what I post around here, but it might be of interest to anyone who has gone through a similar process or anything who hasn’t and might be interested on what it was like for me and might have been like for others. (I’m very grateful in particular to Teresa MacBain for the opportunity to get published on the XCom blog.)
Second, I’ve been involved for the past several weeks in a matter that is more related to this blog. I can’t give away many of the details, but here’s some relevant background that might give some broad contours.
As I explain on my page on Illinois marriage law, the current status of secular celebrants in Illinois is somewhat tenuous. I can officiate weddings – anyone can – but I’m not legally permitted to solemnize the marriage, i.e. to sign the marriage certificate. (What would happen if I were to do so is somewhat unclear to me, but my best reading of Illinois’ marriage statute is that, as long as the couple did not know that I was unable to solemnize their marriage, the marriage would still be valid and I would be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to six months in county jail, up to $1500 in fine, or up to two years of probation.)
The gears have been in motion for this to change for years now. The battlefields have been many, but the victories have been few and notable. In August 2013, the District of Columbia passed a law allowing secular celebrants to solemnize marriages, and in July 2014 – in what is the more relevant triumph here – the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin) ruled in favor of CFI and permitted secular celebrants to solemnize marriages in Indiana.
Since that decision is controlling in Illinois, CFI sent out letters to Illinois and Wisconsin last year to pressure them to amend their respective marriage statutes to include secular celebrants. Neither then-Gov. Pat Quinn (IL) nor Gov. Scott Walker (WI) took up that call.
Fast forward to March of this year, when the situation was slightly different: CFI now had a celebrant with standing to challenge the Illinois marriage statute. Me.
I can’t – and shouldn’t – divulge too much of the details, but let’s just say that, after some strategic letters and phone calls, things have started to happen. And by “things,” I mean “legislative things.” As in “we’re not really talking about a lawsuit anymore.”
I am trying to keep my expectations low. Very low. Efforts to move legislation in other states have been met with resistance and frustration. While DC was able to succeed legislatively, that is not really quite the precedent to justify confidence in Illinois doing the same. If our efforts here in the Land of Lincoln are successful, it will likely be because the real, hard work was done in Indiana, and Illinois has a fiscal incentive (or disincentive, depending on your perspective) to comply with the ruling before it ever comes to a suit.
So perhaps I should amend that to “low expectations with a dash of cautious optimism.”
Regardless of its likelihood, such a change to Illinois marriage law would be game-changing for me. I would have equal rights to the minister down the street (or the online-ordained officiant next door) to solemnize marriages. I could feel more confident in promoting my services to couples without the fear of their hesitance because of my lack of status in the state. I would feel, to be perfectly honest, less like an impostor trying to pass off myself as a legitimate officiant.
There is still much work to be done from where we are in the process of things, so opportunity abounds for things to fall apart. I’ll be sure to update you as I can.
To progress – that we are grateful for what we have accomplished, hopeful for what may be ahead, and determined to do whatever is necessary to achieve it.
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