PITTSBURGH - The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit today on behalf of a couple who were denied a self-uniting marriage license on the basis of their religion by the Allegheny County Register of Wills and asked the court to issue an emergency injunction to allow the couple to marry each other without an officiant at their September 29, 2007, ceremony.
Pennsylvania law permits couples to obtain self-uniting marriage licenses, which allow parties to marry each other without a third-party officiant. But when Mary Jo Knelly and David Huggins-Daines, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed today, went to the Office of the Register of Wills to apply for a self-uniting license, they were turned down because they are not members of the Quaker or B'Hai faiths.
"Saying that Quakers and B'Hais get to perform their own marriage ceremonies but that others can't violates the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions," said ACLU Cooperating Attorney Roslyn M. Litman of the Litman Law Firm.
The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the government from providing a benefit to members of one religion that is not provided to members of other religions, or of no religion, said ACLU of Pennsylvania Staff Attorney Sara Rose. "Favoring one religion over another is the worst kind of Establishment Clause violation because it sends the message that the government endorses the views of the favored religion."
On the website that they created to inform guests about their wedding, Knelly and Huggins-Daines explained that their ceremony would be similar to a Quaker wedding but would be secular in nature. Huggins-Daines, who, as a teenager, attended a private Quaker boarding school in Iowa liked the idea of a Quaker ceremony, though he and Knelly are not Quakers.
"I have a deep appreciation for many of the Quaker traditions, particularly their marriage ceremony, and Mary Jo shares this conviction." Huggins-Daines said. "Therefore, given a choice, this is how we wish to solemnize our marriage."
More information, a copy of the complaint and the motion requesting a temporary restraining order can be found at: www.aclupa.org/knelly. The case, Knelly v. Wagner, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Roslyn M. Litman and James Mahood of the law firm Wilder & Mahood are cooperating attorneys in the case.