Post submitted by Diane Martin, HRC Religion and Faith Assistant
Today, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) joined a group of local religious leaders filing a lawsuit against Officials in the State of North Carolina in what is believed to be the first-ever faith-based challenge to a state’s ban on same-sex marriage. This also marks the first time an entire national Christian denomination has joined the marriage battle in the courts.
North Carolina’s Amendment One is the only state law in the country that seeks to regulate not only civil unions, but also religious marriage ceremonies. The State makes it a misdemeanor crime for clergy to officiate marriage ceremonies without first determining whether the couple has been issued a valid marriage license from the State. The UCC believes that this law and penalties wrongfully conflate civil and religious marriage, effectively making it illegal for clergy to bless same-sex unions even when it is not intended to, nor could it result in a legal marriage. UCC argues that in doing so, the State of North Carolina is violating the Church’s First Amendment right to “free exercise of religion.”
“The core protection of the First Amendment is that government may not regulate religious beliefs or take sides in religious controversies,” explained Jonathan Martel, a Washington D.C. attorney helping with the case. “Marriage performed by clergy is a spiritual exercise and expression of faith essential to the values and continuity of the religion that government may regulate only where it has a compelling interest.”
In the same vein that religious groups argue for the right to not bless the union of a same-sex couple in states with civil marriage equality, UCC and local North Carolina religious leaders are fighting for the right to bless same-sex unions, without the intention of legal recognition, in a state where civil same-sex marriage is prohibited. UCC is joined in this fight by Charlotte and Asheville-area clergy members representing a wide array of faith traditions including Baptist, Reform Judaism, and Unitarian Universalist.
For more information on the case, visit UCC’s website “I Do Support Religious Freedom,” at http://www.ucc.org/ido/