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October 8, 2015

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ACLU sues county, state over religious test to conduct marriages

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Attorneys for the ACLU are suing Clark County and the state of Nevada in hopes of overturning a religious test for nongovernmental officials desiring to perform marriage ceremonies.

ACLU attorneys Allen Lichtenstein and Margaret McLetchie, suing in behalf of five individuals, filed suit in U.S. District Court for Nevada on Sunday against the county and the state.

"This is an action to address the unconstitutional policy and practice of the state of Nevada and Clark County to violate the constitutional rights of those wishing to solemnize marriages, and those wishing to get married in a place of their own choosing, solemnized by a person without religious affiliation," the lawsuit says.

"Plaintiffs allege that Nevada’s marriage solemnization provisions violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Religious Test clause of the United States Constitution, and ... the Nevada Constitution," the suit says.

State laws allow a person to obtain a certificate of permission to solemnize marriages based on the fact that he or she has a religious affiliation, the suit says.

"Similarly-situated persons without such religious affiliation are specifically prohibited from obtaining such certificate. This requirement violates both the United States Constitution and the Nevada Constitution," the suit alleges.

The suit says one of the plaintiffs, Raul Martinez, is an atheist and member of the American Humanist Association.

He has twice applied for, and been denied, a "Permanent Certificate of Authority to Solemnize Marriages" by the Clark County Clerk’s Office, the suit says.

A provision in state law regarding certificates of permission to perform marriages says in part that applications must: "Show the date of licensure, ordination or appointment of the minister or other person authorized to solemnize a marriage, and the name of the church or religious organization with which he is affiliated."

The suit says the only other individuals to whom the state will grant the authority to solemnize marriages are certain governmental officials: Supreme Court justices, district court judges, justices of the peace; municipal judges; and commissioners and deputy commissioners of civil marriages.

State law says the county shall designate and furnish a place for solemnizations conducted by the commissioners of civil marriage.

The lawsuit says two of the plaintiffs, however, are engaged to be married and: "They would like to have an outdoor secular ceremony in a romantic location of their choosing; however, because the current law grants the authority to solemnize marriages to only a handful on non-religiously affiliated state officials, they are having extreme difficulty finding a secular individual to perform their solemnization ceremony."

Attorneys for the state and the county have not yet responded to the lawsuit.

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