A mainline Protestant denomination is leading a landmark challenge to North Carolina’s ban on same sex marriage, charging that it is unconstitutional and restricts the ministers’ freedom of religion.
The Cleveland-headquartered United Church of Christ (UCC), which in 2005 adopted a marriage rights for all resolution, filed its suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Charlotte.
At issue are state bans on same sex marriage, cemented in an amendment to the state constitution in 2012, which make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn’t obtained a license. The UCC says this violates their clergy’s First Amendment rights. In a twist to an argument often cited by conservative organizations, the suit states:
Supporters of the suit state that “it is the only case to bring 1st Amendment religious freedom claims among the 66 marriage equality cases pending in courts nationally.”
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“The United Church of Christ is proud to defend the religious freedoms upon which this nation was founded,” stated the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC. “It is unfortunate that, even today, laws are designed to treat gay and lesbian people unequally. In its efforts to restrict gay marriage, the State of North Carolina has restricted one of the essential freedoms of our ministers and of all Americans.”
Joining the case as plaintiffs are other local religious leaders, including UCC, Unitarian Universalist, Lutheran and Baptist ministers, a congregational rabbi, as well as same sex couples seeking to get married in the state, who charge that the ban is a “denial of equal protection and a violation of substantive due process that implicates their fundamental right to marry.”
The one million-member UCC states that it was the first mainline denomination to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man, and the first predominately white denomination to ordain an African American.
“The United Church of Christ believes in advocating for justice,” stated the Rev. Dr. J. Bennett Guess, an openly gay officer of the Church. “We believe that the UCC is called to be a prophetic church. God calls the church to speak truth to power. We are standing up for the freedom of religion, and to protect the rights of our ministers to do their jobs in faith.”
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