- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 11, 2015

An Oklahoma bill that passed one legislative chamber this week rewrites the state’s marriage-licensing process, and asks clergy and notaries to sign off on new marriage papers.

The change is intended to get judges and clerks out of most or all of the marriage process.

The Oklahoma House of Representatives voted Tuesday to change state law to require couples to get a marriage certificate from an authorized member of the clergy after a formal ceremony. Couples who do not wish to have a religious ceremony may get a notarized common-law marriage affidavit.

Clerks would record these documents but no longer would issue marriage licenses. Judges who wish to officiate at a marriage ceremony may do so, but would not be required to do so.

The aim of the bill is to get the government out of marriage-licensing activities and “leave marriage in the hands of the clergy,” state Sen. Todd Russ, the bill’s lead sponsor, said according to KFOR NewsChannel 4 in Oklahoma City.

The measure passed the Oklahoma House in a 67-24 vote.

It now goes to the Senate, where it is sponsored by state Sen. Anthony Sykes, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

If enacted, the bill would go into effect on Nov. 1.

In 2004, 76 percent of Oklahoma voters approved a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. However, it was struck down as unconstitutional, and a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2014 legalized gay marriage in Oklahoma.

The new bill doesn’t mention same-sex marriage per se, but refers to applicants, persons, parties and “first spouse” and “second spouse” instead of brides and grooms.

Gay rights groups, such as Oklahomans for Equality and Freedom Oklahoma, and their allies have opposed the bill, saying the recorded certificates and “common-law marriage” affidavits might not be accepted as proper marriage licenses by other states or the federal government.

The state needs to be involved in the marriage-licensing process, state Rep. Emily Virgin said, according to News9.com in Oklahoma.

“Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second,” Mr. Russ said, according to KFOR NewsChannel 4.

“Under my bill, the state is not allowing or disallowing same-sex marriage. It is simply leaving it up to the clergy,” he said.

The Oklahoma bill would “accomplish two things,” said the Tenth Amendment Center, an organization in Los Angeles that seeks to preserve and defend the 10th Amendment of the Constitution.

“First, it would render void the edicts of federal judges” who have overturned state marriage laws, the center said.

Second, it would get the state government “out of defining marriage” and end “the squabble between factions that seek to harness the power of the state.”

Once the state is removed from the equation, the center added, “no one can force another to accept their marriage, nor can they force another to reject that person’s own beliefs regarding an institution older than government.”

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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