A court appointed officiant refused to officate a wedding between a couple because they did not believe in god. Is this a violation of the 14th amendment? The answer, at first, seems to be yes. However, the real answer is not as obvious.
Morgan Strong and Tamar Courtney, who had been together for six years, decided to be married by a friend. However, the friend was having issues getting his marriage license. So the couple turned to the court. The court appointed two officiants and the couple contacted the first officiant: Bud Roth. Here is what happened, according to Morgan.
From Morgan Strong’s Facebook Page
Tamar and I were denied the right to be married by a court appointed gentleman by the name of Bud Roth in Franklin County today. We were told by him that he would not marry us because of our religious beliefs or lack thereof. “I will not marry you, I won’t marry anyone who doesn’t believe in god or believes that there is one somewhere.” He also told Tamar that her and I didn’t have the right to be married because of our beliefs.
What Wasn’t Said
However, this is what was not told. Of the two officiants, one was an officiant who performed religious ceremonies and the other was an officiant who performed civil ceremonies. I do not know at this time whether or not it was clear to the couple that Bud Roth only provided religious ceremonies.
1st and 14th Amendments
The first amendment protects religious freedoms while the 14th amendment protects individuals from being discriminated against by the state. Because of the 14th amendment, all people must be provided equal service by the institution. This however does not mean that an institution must require that all employees provide that service to all people.
There are a few other issues which are not clear at this point: it’s difficult to find out whether or not these officiants were even government employees. They may have been private contractors, or may have simply been on a directory listing. They may not have been paid by the government at all. According to Patheos, included in the discussions between Bud and the couple, was the matter of cost. If Bud had actually been an employee of the state or a contractor for the state, he would not have needed to charge a fee.
It’s quite possible that this was simply a misunderstanding: that they weren’t informed of which officiant was which. However, even then, when it was found out that the first officiant was a religious officiant, why didn’t they simply default the secular officiant? One possible answer is activism. Unfortunately religious atheists have had their own part in pushing their faith. They feel that any and all people must accept their belief system, just like many other hard line religions seem to think that someone has to accept their beliefs.
This couple, who is certainly involved in the atheist movement, may have intentionally selected the religious officiant in order to try to force the idea that he must provide them service, even though it violates his personal beliefs. This is neither reasonable nor legal. Everyone is entitled the right to services, but no one is entitled to force an individual to provide that service against his or her will.