As same-sex marriage bans continue to be challenged in many states throughout the nation, a church organization is joining the fight in the state of North Carolina. The Charlotte Post reports on April 28, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ has filed a lawsuit for the right to marry same-sex couples.
According to the report, the lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Charlotte and contends that the state law that currently defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman and also restricts ministers from having the freedom to perform gay marriages is unconstitutional. UCC attorneys say the current law is a violation of the First Amendment as it limits a minister’s freedom of religion and expression. In summary, the organization is fighting for its ministers to have the freedom to perform their religious duties even when it comes to same-sex marriages.
“The United Church of Christ is proud to defend the religious freedoms upon which this nation was founded,” said 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.”
As it stands, clergy members who wish to perform same-sex marriages are faced with a decision of breaking the law. That’s because in 2012, voters approved Amendment One, a law that not only restricts marriage, but also punishes ministers who decide to perform a marriage for a couple that does not have a marriage license. They can be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 120 days in jail or community service. Because same-sex marriage is illegal in the state, a couple wouldn’t be able to receive a valid marriage license.
The lawsuit definitely opens up a new perspective in the marriage equality fight. As Jake Sussman, attorney for the coalition of clergy members, states, “this lawsuit introduces a First Amendment claim that the marriage ban in North Carolina violates the right to the free exercise of religious beliefs by denominations, clergy, and congregants who believe that same sex marriages are theologically valid and want to perform marriage ceremonies.”
The legal challenge presented by the UCC is the second lawsuit challenging the ban filed in as many months. Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) launched a new fight for the state to recognize same-sex marriage. In the lawsuit, the ACLU urges a federal judge to overturn the ban in efforts to help children and gay couples who require urgent healthcare needs.