The United Church of Christ (UCC), joined by a group of LGBT-friendly clergy and same-sex couples, has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina’s laws and constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Not only does the ban inhibit same-sex couples’ equal protection under the law, the complaint argues, but it also violates the religious liberty of these religious leaders.
That is because North Carolina has a separate law that prohibits ministers from solemnizing a marriage without a license for that marriage. If charged, a minister would be found guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor and charged a fee of $200. Thus, a religious organization like the UCC, which celebrates same-sex marriages, can not even honor that religious ceremony without violating the law. The complaint explains how this hurts both the UCC, as well as the other clergy and couples party to the suit:
By depriving the Plaintiffs of the freedom to perform religious marriage ceremonies or to marry, North Carolina stigmatizes Plaintiffs and their religious beliefs, and the State relegates the Couple Plaintiffs to second-class status. The laws forbidding same-sex marriage tell Plaintiffs that their religious views are invalid and same-sex relationships are less worthy, thus humiliating each Plaintiff and denigrating the integrity and closeness of families and religious organizations, depriving Plaintiffs of the inclusive religious community of family units they wish to establish.
The complaint contends that because proponents of the amendment used religious language to justify its passage, they were imposing one religious belief on the entire state. The UCC does not want to force other denominations to celebrate same-sex unions, but wants the freedom solemnize them in its own churches.
As the Charlotte Observer notes, this is the first time an entire denomination has directly taken part in marriage equality litigation. North Carolina is home to 155 UCC churches and more than 24,000 of the denomination’s members.
“Amendment One,” the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, civil unions, and domestic partnerships, passed two years ago with 61 percent of the vote. A new Public Policy Polling poll found this month that the gap is closing, but 53 percent of North Carolinians still oppose legal recognition for same-sex couples’ marriages.