Church ministers from the United Church of Christ have filed the country's first faith-based same-sex marriage lawsuit in North Carolina, claiming a 2012 amendment to ban the unions violates their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
"North Carolina judges some of its citizens as unfit for the blessings of God. We reject that notion," Rev. Nancy Allison, pastor of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ and one of the plaintiffs in the case, told The Charlotte Observer
. "The sacraments of baptism and communion are open to all. So should all God’s children be able to receive marriage."
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"We are taking a stand for the freedom of religion," said Reverend Geoffrey Black, president of the UCC.
North Carolina's law is such that any minister who officiates a marriage ceremony without a license is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and face up to 45 days in jail. According to the suit, because of the ban on same-sex marriages, ministers are worried that when practicing their religion by officiating a same-sex marriage they could face jail time.
The lawsuit, led by Charlotte attorney Jake Sussman, is joined by other local religious leaders, including a rabbi, and same-sex couples from Charlotte, Asheville, Concord, and Huntersville.
The lawsuit was announced at a news conference held at Holy Covenant in Charlotte, and Sussman said it is among 66 lawsuits across the U.S. challenging marriage bans. He also said it was the first religiously-based challenge to any such bans, and that it is also the first instance of an entire denomination joining the marriage battle. In total, the UCC has more than 1.1 million members and 5,100 churches.
"We feel that it is important that any person that comes into community life of a United Church of Christ congregation be afforded equal pastoral care and equal opportunity to religious services that clergy provide," Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister, told The Associated Press
. "Whether to provide those services or break the law — that's something no clergy member should be faced with."
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, which helped pass the 2012 ban, said, "This is sadly, and predictably, the 'lawsuit of the week' filed by those who want to impose same-sex marriage on North Carolina. Moreover, 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."
Seventeen states recognize same-sex marriage, and federal judges have struck down bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma, and Virginia.
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