Couple refused self-uniting marriage license

A Pennsylvania couple were denied a self-uniting license because they are not members of the Quaker or B'Hai faiths.

Court/Assoc.: Federal Court, Western District

Attorneys/Firms: Sara Rose & Vic Walczak (ACLU-PA); Roslyn Litman (Litman Law); James Mahood (Wilder & Mahood)

On September 21, 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed a federal civil-rights lawsuit 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.

On September 27, 2007, U. S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti issued an emergency injunction directing the Allegheny County Register of Wills to issue a self-uniting marriage license to our clients, Mary Jo Knelly and David Huggins-Daines. The Register’s policy was to issue self-uniting marriage licenses (a legally-valid marriage in Pennsylvania since 1681 where there is no officiant and the parties wed themselves in front of witnesses) only to religions that do not provide officiants, like Quakers and Baha’i. The ACLU challenged this policy as a prohibited preference for certain religions that violates the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

While it appears that the Allegheny County Register will change her policy from this point forward, the ACLU is aware that many counties either do not issue any self-uniting marriage licenses or do so only if the parties can demonstrate a particular religious affiliation. If you have been denied a self-uniting marriage license on account of your religious affiliation, please call us toll-free at 1-877-744-2258. We may be able to help.

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