United Church of Christ Sues North Carolina for Right to Perform Same Sex Marriages

Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Rev. Kathryn Cartledge and Elizabeth Eve, partners for 30 years, attend protest against the N. Carolina law (AP photo)

A liberal protestant church is suing to overturn North Carolina’s anti-gay marriage law, claiming it infringes on the church’s right to bless such unions.

 

United Church of Christ, which has more than a million members across the U.S., is the first national church to sue in order to throw out a same-sex marriage ban.

 

“We didn’t bring this lawsuit to make others conform to our beliefs, but to vindicate the right of all faiths to freely exercise their religious practices,” Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ, which has supported same-sex marriages since 2005, told The New York Times.

 

The legal basis of the lawsuit (pdf) resides in the argument that the state’s “Amendment One” initiative, which was approved by 61% of voters in 2012, violates the First Amendment because it infringes on the religious freedoms of United Church of Christ’s clergy to perform gay marriages.

 

“By denying same-sex couples the right to marry and prohibiting religious denominations even from performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, the State of North Carolina stigmatizes same-sex couples, as well as the religious institutions and clergy that believe in equal rights,” the complaint (pdf) states.

 

Clark pointed out that “if [members of the clergy] perform a religious blessing ceremony of a same-sex couple in their church, they are subject to prosecution and civil judgments.”

 

Joining United Church of Christ as plaintiffs are a Lutheran priest, a rabbi, two Unitarian Universalist ministers, a Baptist pastor and several same-sex couples.

 

“In their zeal to pile on to denying the freedom to marry, North Carolina officials also put in place a measure that assaulted the religious freedom that they profess to support by penalizing and seeking to chill clergy that have different views,” Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, an organization that supports same-sex marriage, told the Times. “The extent to which North Carolina went to deny the freedom to marry wound up additionally discriminating on the basis of religion by restricting speech and the ability of clergy to do their jobs.”

 

Supporters of the law dismissed the legal action as an attempt to “impose same-sex marriage on North Carolina,” according to Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, which opposes gay weddings.

 

“It’s both ironic and sad that an entire religious denomination and its clergy who purport holding to Christian teachings on marriage would look to the courts to justify their errant beliefs,” Fitzgerald said in a statement. “These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity.”

 

North Carolina’s attorney general, Roy Cooper, is the defendant in the case, which is ironic because he is on record opposing the law. But as the state’s top law enforcement official, Cooper is obligated to defend it, which he has said he will do.

 

There are about 70 lawsuits currently in the country seeking to overturn anti-gay marriage statutes.

-Noel Brinkerhoff

 

To Learn More:

North Carolina’s Gay-Marriage Ban Is Challenged by Church (by Michael Paulson, New York Times)

United Church of Christ Sues over North Carolina Ban on Same-Sex Marriage (by Michael Gordon, Charlotte Observer)

General Synod v. Roy Cooper (U.S. District Court, Western North Carolina, Charlotte Division) (pdf)

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