A groom signs a marriage license.

Oklahoma bill would abolish state's role in granting marriage licenses, leave it in clergy hands

Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Russ. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State Legislature website

Oklahoma state Rep. Todd Russ. Photo courtesy of Oklahoma State Legislature website

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OKLAHOMA CITY (RNS) In an effort to block the state’s involvement with gay marriage, the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday (March 10) to abolish marriage licenses in the state.

The legislation, authored by Rep. Todd Russ, R-Cordell, amends language in the state law that governs the responsibilities of court clerks. All references to marriage licenses were removed.

Russ said the intent of the bill is to protect court clerks caught between the federal and state governments. A federal appeals court overturned Oklahoma’s ban on same-sex marriage last year. Russ, like many Republican legislators in the state, including Gov. Mary Fallin, believes the federal government overstepped its constitutional authority on this issue.

Acknowledging that his bill is partially in response to the federal court ruling, Russ told ABC News affiliate KSWO that the federal government lacks the power to “force its new definitions of what they believe on independent states.”

Russ said the federal government is attempting to change the traditional definition of marriage, so his legislation would place the responsibility for officiating marriages in the hands of clergy.

“Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second,” Russ told The Oklahoman.

The legislation has sparked controversy, both in the Legislature and with groups such as Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Oklahoma Democrats are concerned that the legislation will lead to a “Pandora’s box” of issues, including polygamy, once the government’s authority to regulate marriage is removed.

Americans United released a statement opposing the bill, saying it is biased against same-sex couples and nontheists, including atheists. Russ has been unapologetic in defending his exclusion of nontheists from the right to marry.

“They don't have a spiritual basis for a marriage and don’t want to have a clergy member or a priest or someone involved in the spiritual aspect,” Russ told KSWO, “then they can file an affidavit of common-law marriage.”

The bill would require court clerks to issue certificates of marriage signed by ordained clergy or affidavits of common-law marriage.

The Senate has not yet voted on the measure. Nor has Gov. Fallin indicated what she will do if the bill passes the Senate.



  1. And the bill would be a gross violation of the Establishment Clause. As usual a conservative Christian politician wants to shred the Constitution in order to further his narrow anti-democratic sectarian views.

    “Russ told KSWO, “then they can file an affidavit of common-law marriage.””

    And this is the point when Todd Russ has demonstrated what a monumentally ignorant SOB he is. A “common law marriage” is not a union which is recognized fully as a civil marriage nor confers even close to the same level of rights, privileges and obligations under the law. Essentially he is saying that if one doesn’t get a state sanctioned religious marriage, they must accept something grossly inferior.

    Why do Christians hate civil liberties so much?

  2. Cue the lawsuits from atheists.

    Let us not forget how stupid this really is. They actually believe the No True Christian fallacy. There are plenty of clergy who will officiate at a same-sex wedding. and it takes nothing to get oneself ordained on line.

    “Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second.” Tell that to the romans. Nor does it matter. For at least 200 years, legal marriage has been a civil contract in the west.

    I don’t have the patience for the rest of this silliness.

  3. “Acknowledging that his bill is partially in response to the federal court ruling, Russ told ABC News affiliate KSWO that the federal government lacks the power to “force its new definitions of what they believe on independent states.””

    Like fun they do. Ol’ Russ better learn his constitutional history.

  4. What an ingeniously self-serving stroke! Now clergy, particularly clergy opposed to same-sex marriage, have their views backed by the state. At the same time, clergy, again particularly clergy opposed to same-sex marriage, can cry “religious freedom” if anyone suggests that as agents of the state they cannot discriminate when it comes to licensing marriages. Besides being an example of the privilege of having your cake and eating it too, I wonder if this new step amounts to a violation of the “establishment” clause.

  5. Oklahoma Republicans have just legalized gay marriage and Oklahoma Democrats protest that it could be a slippery slope towards legalized polygamy. Interesting times we live in.

    I do not understand why LGBT groups are opposing this, though. It doesn’t “exclude” non-theists or LGBT peoples, as judges can still officiate marriage ceremonies (plus becoming ordained takes literally less than five minutes online). The new marriage contracts are in a gender-neutral language, and thus can be used in same sex marriage.

    This should really make everyone happy. Gay marriage is legalized in Oklahoma. I suspect opposition is just due to the fact normally anti-gay folks are the ones behind the legalization.

  6. Has anyone in Oklahoma given thought to the fact that there are many different churches? Some of which actually accept marriage of same sex couples. This isn’t fair to the nontheists and atheist either. Surprise Rep. Russ… you are in for a rude awakening. It’s not all about you and what you think is the basis for marriage. Your proposed law violates the 14th Amendment and possibly the 1st Amendment. Good luck with that one.

  7. This is crazy and just another way of the religious trying to control marriage in this country. Actually, I have no problem with polygamy as long as all of the marriages were between consenting adults and that women were not being forced into this type of marriage. It is still happening, why not have some rules and regulations behind it. Forcing these couples into hiding only creates more issues and a strong chance for abuse such as in the FLDS where marriages are in a secret society and children end up becoming victims. Also, what happens when religious groups who are coming from countries and beliefs that when a child becomes a woman (begins to menstruate) that she is eligible at the age of 12? Will they be giving away children in marriage because it is no longer under government control? I think this idea abhorrent. Also, since the marriages would be done by clergy only common law marriage would no longer exist, removing marriage rights for an non-believers. This is BS!

  8. “Marriage was historically a religious covenant first and a government-recognized contract second,” Russ told The Oklahoman.” –
    – NO! It was NOT a religious rite first. Evidence – none!
    Social and anthropological and philosophical and anecdotatal evidence do NOT show religious origins, but a natural social concept.

    BTW, which religion? Neanderthal? Cromagnon? Maybe Australipithicus?

    Typical misinformation (lies) by religion to force their self-centred agenda in controlling the lives of others.
    Leave us alone and let us live OUR lives as we see fit.

    What is wrong with freedom and liberty?

    Didn’t we declare independence from the dictatorships of royalty, military and religion?!

  9. Do they think that will somehow stop LGBT marriage?
    Last time I was there there were MCC churches in Tulsa and OKC. There are congregations of other denominations quite willing to do same sex marriages scattered across the state… Atheists will have to figurre out how to handle it, but it will not stop anything?..

  10. This Russ guy certainly HASN’T studied his history. It was not until the 11th or 12th century that the church very reluctantly became involved in marriage. It was (and the church protested it was) a civil thing. They relented to pressure from those that wanted to place a religious blanket on a civil action. He’s hanging his ignorance out for the nation to see.

  11. As a Lutheran Pastor, I used to perform marriages and when I handed the paperwork to the bride and groom say, “Congratulations! You now have permission to sue each other in a court of law. I resented being forced to serve as a state agent. This is an issue that should have been settled 4-500 years ago when the government should have taken over the business of record keeping for couples and families joining for property and survivor rights. Let the church or other cultural institution marry and confer spiritual blessing which should have no meaning in secular society. Let a judge or justice of the peace marry to guarantee tax or survivor or insurance benefits. A couple can have one, the other or both as they see fit. If an atheist couple wants to get “spiritually” married, get Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris. If a gay couple, don’t go to a “bible believing church”. Go to a Metropolitan Community or Unitarian Church. If you want a tax benefit, go to a judge. How hard is…

  12. So does this mean that Same-Sex marriage would become legal in OK because churches that support it could perform these ceremonies?

  13. Unfortueately this law, if passed, will be ruled unconstitutional.

    Why unfortunately? Because this law would mean that anyone getting an on-line ministry degree (minimal or no requirements) would legally be clergy and be entitled to issue marriage licenses. Every shopkeeper and bartender could become clergy – now that would be convenient, getting married at your local 7/11 or your neighborhood bar. Result: utter chaos

    And Wiccas too would have the right to issue licenses and Satanists and neo-Pagans, etc. Someone might make a killing issuing an online ministry degree from the Monastery of Satan or some such place.If the state attempts to exclude any ministers the the excluded could raise the cry of “Our religious freedom is being violated by the State of Oklahoma.” This would be a nice turn on the drama queen fundamentalists who use the hysteria of “Our religious freedom is being violated” to express their prejudices and pose as poor persecuted martyrs.

  14. This is the way it should have been all along across the nation.

  15. This is a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. All this bill does is remove the ability of government employees to certify marriages as part of their job descriptions.

    As a libertarian and an atheist, I think this is a wise move by OK. Get the government out of marriage. Its only role should be to file the certificate – just like any other legal contract.

    As for only allowing clergy to perform marriages, again, I have no problem with this. Oklahoma has very easy requirements to be considered “clergy”. The person has to be an “ordained or authorized preacher or minister of the Gospel, priest or other ecclesiastical dignitary of any denomination”. That means that Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and even Jedis and Pastafarians can still legally get married in Oklahoma.

  16. And this is why Libertarians have no concept of civil liberties.

    This amounts to nothing short of selling off a function of government for state sponsored religion. What is the purpose behind this bill? Does it address a legitimate interest of the state? It has no function other than to legally discriminate in favor of the religious.

    It makes no difference how easy it is to be declared “clergy”. It is an unnecessary impediment to the legal status of marriage which serves no rational and secular purpose. The sole purpose of the boll is to make gay weddings or atheist weddings harder to do.

    It is a malicious and unconstutional attack on the rights of its citizens. Marriage is a legal status conferred by the state. A wedding is a ceremony which can be religious or state sponsored. Blurring the difference is dishonest.

  17. Larry, you’re making an argument designed so simply support your defense of secularism – no state created marriage. Religion did.

  18. Brien, Doyle I would retort but one cannot argue with stupid.

  19. This bill shows that Christians will go to extreme lengths to display their anti-gay hatred, even trying to enshrine it into law.

  20. What purpose is served by forcing people to do so? Nothing but malice against gays and atheists under color of law.

  21. Mike, secularism is the basis of our religious liberties. Of course. So you are saying that Christians are supposed to hate the 1st amendment?

    This bill still only has an irrational and purely sectarian purpose. It violates the establishment clause.

    Why do you hate freedom so much?

  22. Marriage equality is already legal there. This antidemocratic bill is trying to impair such rights for no legitimate purpose.

  23. I wonder of the guy knows he’s going to hell.

  24. “That means that Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and even Jedis and Pastafarians can still legally get married in Oklahoma.”

    Just Christians, actually, unless an ordained Christian minister wants to marry non-Christians. The language you quoted (“Gospel,” “ecclesiastical,” “denomination”) is specifically Christian. It definitely does not say that a representative of any religion or no religion can perform a marriage.

  25. Religion did not create marriage, Mike. Marriage has existed in one form or another for thousands of years across thousands of cultures. If you want to claim some Religion created marriage, why don’t you let us all know which one. Which one religion was powerful enough to stretch its idea of marriage across the globe over 5000 years ago? Then we have to discuss how to define it, is it one man and a thousand women? Is it one man, one wife and her maid? Is it multiple men and women? Is it one guy and his 12 buddies? The whole concept of one man and one woman that people cry about now, is a relatively recent concept.

  26. Larry,
    “Why do Christians hate civil liberties so much?” Boy that is a not only a global response but it take in all of the known universe. On civil liberties, I can speak for my family and I. I don’t think most Christians hate civil liberties, just the idiots and Christians can be idiots the same as anyone else(equal rights there)

    To the bill doing away with marriage licenses in Oklahoma, as a minister I say NO! EVEN H.LL NO. We don’t want it, don’t put that stuff off on us.

  27. Looks like we’re going to have civil marriage and religious marriage, just like we should have had since the late 1700s. Separation of church and state. Hallelujah! Huzzah! (Will Oklahoma recognize a Lutheran or Hindu or Shinto or Asatruarfelagio marriage license? Or does “clergy” only refer to anti-gay Southern Baptist religious leaders or only [insert narrow-minded religious group leader term]s?) … (This one (I) wonders if they’ll still respect other states’ marriage licenses… (mental image of Yosemite Sam yellin’ “This means war!”)))

  28. Robin, would you join my family as one of my wives?

  29. I just thought that only the Southern most states had such really stupid politicians, is it really stupid voters that soak themselves in Fox news and Russ shows. May its more like the southern governors who stood in school house doors saying words like: “Segregation now and forever”, knowing well that they were blowing in the wind. They knew integration was coming they just wanted to stay in office and blame the Federal Government.

    We seem to be a nation of over three hundred million people with over six hundred opinions and very little knowledge.

  30. For the record, marriage is a sacred covenant between two people. Jesus was clear that the religious marital rite, followed by intercourse, spiritually joins a couple until one of them passes from this life (Matthew 19:4-8). This was clear in the early Church, and right through to our day. As far as church marriages and the State, well the state proclaims a marital contract, God proclaims a covenant. The covenant is a free giving of oneself to the other. A contract is an agreement between two people that can be broken. So that is the difference. But the State, for the legal aspect, allows the churches to be in a sense agents of the State. But it is not reciprocal; if a couple gets a civil divorce from the State, that does not break the marital covenant in the eyes of God. So maybe Oklahoma has struck the right chord with this one. And hopefully other states will follow, due to the State getting into church affairs.

  31. The idiots as you call them are the ones to claim to speak for all Christians. If you had spoken your objections to this bill as a Christian and not just in response to my statement, I would’ve taken you more seriously. But my criticism of NALT ( not all like that ) Christians is you only hear from them when being defensive. if you want people to have a better perception of Christians then call out the “idiots” on your own. Don’t wait to be prompted by others.

  32. What record are you talking about? Your religion’s views that’s it. Nothing that has any relevance in our laws. Religious freedom means nobody has to give a flying crap what you or anyone else thinks God wants. It has no bearing on our constitutionally valid laws.

    Why do you hate freedom so much?

  33. Many of the State laws are contractual. And marriage at the State level (civil) is only a contract. It is an arrangement between two parties. The fact that a man and a woman are necessary for that contract, is based upon both the natural law, as well as the religious influence built into the Western Culture, as marriage is intended to both continue to human race, and be a proper setting for society–within the framework of God–to instill virtuous behavior, and the raising of good children. But when it no longer serves that overall purpose, or when marriage is violated beyond its natural intent, then marriage becomes only an arrangement of convenience. And if so, then the State can grant common law marriage certificates for people who have lived together for a period of time, or let the churches marry those who they feel will bring the gift of marriage to its intended purpose, i.e., a covenant, where the two parties become one, and the State enjoys the fruits of that covenant.

  34. You have no clue what you are talking about.
    “Many of the state laws are contractual”
    Contractual with whom? Contract laws are contractual. State laws are state laws.
    You are making unfounded and unsupported stipulations:
    Marriage requires a man and a woman
    Marriage is based on religious influences
    Marriage is about instilling virtuous behavior and raising children

    These are things your religion may state, but they have no bearing on our civil laws. You are simply making crap up.

    As for “common law” certificates, that is a backhanded insult for anyone who knows what it really is. “Common law marriage” is not a legal marriage in any real aspect. It never recognized as one. It is an inferior state which must be granted by a judge’s discretion to note obligations between a couple out of a sense of equity. It is far different from a civil law marriage which must be recognized by law

    Churches cannot be the sole…

  35. Btw to those unaware as to how marriage laws work, when Russ stated “then they can file an affidavit of common-law marriage.”

    This is essentially telling people who do not want a church wedding to go eff themselves. That they cannot get married in the state in a legally recognized fashion.

    A common law marriage is not a marriage in any legal sense. It is not recognized as a marriage in other states or even within OK.

    An “affidavit of common law marriage” must be approved by a judge at their discretion and has nothing to do with the rights and obligations of a civil marriage. “Common law” means, as determined by a judge in litigation. It is merely a judge’s ruling that a couple may share common rights and obligations on select matters. It is vastly inferior in rights and recognition to a civil marriage. A civil marriage being a marriage recognized with full rights and obligations under the civil codes of the state. Something Russ wants to deny people in service of his…

  36. The natural law is clear throughout nature. Animals abide by it, as it is the only way each species continues on. When man deviates from nature, he abandons the natural law. Marriage between a man and a woman is properly ordered, and is natures profession of normalcy. And whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, civil law is contractual. Contracts can be broken, as we see in the divorce courts. Covenants such as marriage, only end upon the death of one or the other of the spouses (Matthew 19:1-11). And you are correct, we can go to religious texts for how old marriage is, but it would not be conclusive. Or we could go to the native people who lived according to the natural law to see how they developed (did they marry, or did they establish a type of common law marriage? One can only guess). But we do know that marriage as we know it is part of Western Civilization, and that was shaped by Christianity.

  37. Natural law is a bullcrap term for making unsupportable assumptions. it has no meaning or definition beyond what you feel like declaring.

    Civil law is contractual is a nonsense phrase. You are clueless and throwing around phrases badly. Common law marriage is not a legally recognized marriage.

    You are either repeating someone else’s mistakes, lying or just plain clues less on the subject at hand.

    And no, western civilization was not formed BY Christianity. That us another nonsense phrase without factual support.

    Doesn’t little baby Jesus cry when you lie so badly?

    Corinthians is not nor ever will be the basis for our civil laws.

  38. I would challenge you to read any Western Civilization textbook, and you might be surprised to find that most all the things we now take for granted, were by and large influenced by Christianity, and more specifically, the Catholic Church. But when civil law departs from even the natural law, then civil law has lost its mooring. I am not totally disagreeing with you, as you make many good points, but when marriage becomes corrupted to the point where it no longer has any meaning left to it, then it is time to reconsider its place in our country’s laws. I would imagine that if one of the States decided to take away Christmas, and place it back in the hands of the churches, then people would probably react similarly. Although that is not a good comparison, Christmas has certainly lost its true meaning; it has become a secular free for all.

  39. Influenced by Christianity is a nonsense phrase. It has no meaning. It is so vague you will just pretend to take credit for anything in a dishonest fashion without bothering to say what Christianity had to do with it.

    Truth of the matter us western civilization is influenced by the horrors of state sponsored churches. The wars, oppression and conflict they wrought. Our society developed by leaving such crap behind.

    Civil laws never came from religious sources. You are either lying or ignorantly attributing things.

    There is a reason you don’t see Jesus mentioned in our constitution or laws. It never had a place there. It was always secular. To decry secularism is to declare a hatred of religious freedom. You have shown a disdain for such concepts already.

    Sorry for you, nobody has to kiss your posterior for being a Christian. Our laws never have to conform to your version of God. Doing do is undemocratic.

    Why do you hate freedom so much?

  40. Larry, the examples would be too many for this blog. Why not just read a Western Civilization Text, and stop the blogging. Purchase Western Civilization: Volume I & II by Jackson J. Spielvogel

  41. So the religiouslature of Oklahoma has just designated marriage as a religion only event. In other words, they have just replaced a civil institution– civil marriage law– with a religious institution.

    They have just destroyed any argument they might have against sharia.

  42. In other words Greg, have nothing you can say with a straight face. Typical of people like yourself who seek special rights for Christians and dishonest revisionism ala David Barton.

    I will make this easy:
    Democracy- Nope. Came from the Ancient Greeks

    Civil Law-Nope. Churches had their own codes and courts. Civil Law and Common Law was designed to avoid the vagaries of rule by decree.

    Limited monarchy (Magna Carta)- Quite the opposite. It came as a reaction against Church friendly Divine right rulership.

    Civil Liberties-Came from people FLEEING the excesses of Christian sponsored government. From people who opposed divine basis of government Christian churches loved so much. John Locke’s social contract bears little relation to the doctrine of major churches of his time.

    Art-Not really. Religious subjects allowed depiction of violence and nudity with social sanction.

    Science-Not after the formation of the scientific method.

    Doesn’t leave much. 🙂

  43. And why should atheists have to “learn how to handle it”? Why do I have to deal with anything that you don’t just because I’m atheist? That’s a pretty big issue, don’t you think?

  44. Ben, it seems this blog has hit a brick wall. But one more time:

    On the Christian side, you have marriage as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman, which cannot be broken. On the natural law side you have man and woman coming together to continue the human race, whether they marry or not is not clear, but it was a man and a woman. In-between these two extremes, you have the civil marriage, which is a contract between a man and a woman, for as long as each follows the prescriptions of the law, the marriage remains valid. Now, however, Federal Judge are bringing marriage down below even the levels of the natural law, and granting “marriage” certificates, and the rights proper to marriage, to humans of the same sex. That is when the States and the Government itself needs to rethink the whole marriage thing.

  45. It’s ironic to me that conservatives absolutely despise the theocracies in the Middle East (except the ones their donors do business with) but yet pass and propose laws resembling laws in those countries rather than democratic and secular ones. Maybe Oklahoma will have a supreme religious leader like Iran next? I wonder if Iran were say, a Southern Baptist Republic rather than an Islamic one, would we be so at odds with them? I find it sad that being a Republican is more about hate and political polarity than about the freedom and fiscal conservatism they claim. This law is disgusting and completely unnecessary for the well being of the citizens of Oklahoma.

  46. No Greg, on the “Christian” side, you have a law which violates religious freedoms for no valid goal whatsoever. Whatever you think your religion says about marriage is entirely irrelevant to our laws.

    Religious freedom means I don’t have to give a damn what you think your church based “natural law” or the Bible says when it comes to our laws.

    So what purpose is served by this law?

    To make it difficult for gays, atheists or people who want a non-religious wedding to get married under the civil laws of the state.

  47. For centuries government stayed out of the marriage business, then they found a way to make money off of it ( divorce laws and child support ) so now they have a opportunity to expand into a whole new market, one that is ever changing and pushing for new “rights”. I say if anyone can find a church or preacher or dogcatcher to marry them so be it. Just don’t try to make me recognize it for anything more than a contract that the government has found a way into. For example, you can have a common law marriage ( very very easy to get into) but government wants to be all in on your divorce. I wonder why that is? Is it to protect either party or is it a money grab for government? The clerks office where you apply for you marriage license is small and poorly furnished but the court for your divorce is state of the art. Just sayin that if you follow the money government should let people handle their own affairs and stay out of the way. Short version: Great job Oklahoma keep it…

  48. What church do you want to be married in Emily? I will be happy to make the calls for you. Oh wait thats right, you are an atheist, how bout we form the first atheist church so that all you folks have somewhere to get married and once a week we can all meet and talk about how smart we really are.

  49. Also, since the marriages would be done by clergy only common law marriage would no longer exist, removing marriage rights for an non-believers. This is BS!

  50. Except none of that is true. Government has always been involved in marriage. Laws concerning civil law marriage are primarily motivated by government interests in record keeping for a status which confers so many rights and obligations.

    Common law is not nor has been as easy to get into as a civil law marriage. Nor do states want to make it as easy.

    No one gives a crap that you recognize a marriage. Its all about government recognition.

  51. Why should she or anyone hand over their right to get married over to clergy?

    Its stage sponsored religion. To those who know the constitution, it is forbidden.

  52. This is the end game. When the state stops doing marriages and the clergy is passed that potato, the ones who do not wish to marry same sex coupled will be sued and subsequently closed.
    The states hold marriage as an institution that stabilizes the community. That’s why they offer it in a legal rather than in religious institutions. But if the state is now seeing this as issue, they are now thrusting the church into a legal juggerknot.
    So after the suprem court gives its opinion on this, if the churches are wise they will shut down their participation in marriages altogether to follow suit with the state. Then the states that have passed an amendment to their state’s constitution are now in jepardy of looking like the movie “Braveheart” when those who wanted to get married had to sneak around and celebrate their nuptials.
    So after pushing for marriage there might not be anyone who practices it’s officiation left who will perform one.

  53. Not true. Nether George Washington nor Abraham Lincoln obtained a “civil” marriage license; their Marriages were simply recorded in their Family Bible.

  54. Even Greece and Rome had government involvement- they documented it for census records- laws existed for how property and the like was handled. The US government even in the beginning of the country did have limited involvement even by law.

  55. And why should theists have to “learn how to handle it”? Why do I have to deal with anything that you don’t just because I’m a theist? That’s a pretty big issue, don’t you think?

  56. Not Christians, in general, please. Just right wing fundamentalist Christians. They’re part of the Christian tradition but other more loving traditions are also represented in the wider field of the churches, many quite progressive.

  57. Yes, state sanctioned marriage declares war on existing families and as you declared, is nothing but a money grab for the state. Marriage is instituted by God, period.

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