United Church Of Christ Challenges NC Same-Sex Marriage Ban, Files Lawsuit!

Cathy Fry, left, and Joanne Marinaro, center, who want to get married, at an announcement of a suit against North Carolina. Credit Jeff Wilhelm/Charlotte Observer
Cathy Fry, left, and Joanne Marinaro, center, who want to get married, at an announcement of a suit against North Carolina. Credit Jeff Wilhelm/Charlotte Observer

In an unprecedented move, a North Carolina church has banded together with two Unitarian Universalist ministers, a Baptist (!!!) pastor, and several?couples to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, claiming the laws violate the church’s religions freedom to celebrate and bless same-sex marriage. In late April, the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit in a Federal District Court claiming that the nearly one million members nationwide have supported same-sex marriage since 2005.

From the New York Times:

?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,? said Donald C. Clark Jr., general counsel of the United Church of Christ.

The lawsuit cites?United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court case that validated same-sex marriage.

Marriage is a public affirmation of love and respect, and the freedom to marry confers upon individuals ?a dignity and status of immense import.? United States v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675, 2692 (2013). A marriage embodies a mutual exchange of promises to support?and care for each other, and it fosters emotional, psychological, physical, financial, and spiritual?well-being. In short, as the Supreme Court has noted, marriage is ?the most important relation in?life.? Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 384 (1978).

When the government denies a group of people the right to marry without a?rational reason for doing so, it imposes a severe ?disadvantage, a separate status, and so a?stigma? upon that group. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. at 2693. By denying same-sex couples the right to?marry and by 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 church?argues that a law criminalizing the religious solemnization of weddings without a state-issued marriage license violates the 1st Amendment. Bizarrely, the state does allow clerbgy members to bless same-sex couples who were married in other states, but prohibits them from performing??religious blessings and marriage rites? for NC same-sex couples. If a church violates the law and??if they perform a religious blessing ceremony of a same-sex couple in their church, they are subject to prosecution and civil judgments.? Predictably, NC anti-freedom organizations, including the North Carolina Values Coalition, are livid about the lawsuit. Tami Fitzgerald, executive director, gave this statement:

?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,? Ms. Fitzgerald said in a statement. ?These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity.? (NY Times)

This lawsuit is the first and it’s expected that it will set an important legal precedent. What needs to happen now is for NC attorney general Roy Cooper to decline to defend the lawsuit and tell the court that he agrees that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Cooper claims that he supports marriage equality but plans?to argue against the lawsuit in court.

I was alerted to this lawsuit via an email from Faithful America. They’ve created a petition to support the church and urge the attorney general to decline to contest the lawsuit. You can sign it here.

My prediction? The church will win this. —————————————————————————————————————– Tiffany Willis is the founder and editor-in-chief of Liberal America. An unapologetic member of the Christian Left, she has spent most of her career actively working with ?the least of these? and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. She’s passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics she discusses,?like her?Facebook page,?follow her on Twitter, or?connect with her via LinkedIn. She also has a?grossly neglected personal blog?and a?literary quotes blog that is a labor of love. Find her somewhere and join the discussion.