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UCC sues North Carolina over marriage freedom

Timothy Kincaid

April 28th, 2014

A strong component of the organized opposition to marriage equality lies in a desire to impose religious conformity. Although expressed as “religious freedom”, it’s quite the opposite. Opponents are not content with having the state stay out of their religious sacraments and ceremonies; rather, they desire that the state step in and declare that only their religious marriages are respected and those of other positions or faiths be denied.

Now the United Church of Christ is fighting back. (Charlotte Post)

The General Synod of the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, contending state law that defines marriage as a union between a man and woman restrict its ministers from performing their religious duties is unconstitutional.

North Carolina prohibits couples of the same gender from obtaining a marriage license and makes it a crime for ministers to officiate a marriage ceremony without determining whether a couple has a license. UCC attorneys say the law limits ministers’ choices, violates the principle of “free exercise of religion” and restricts the freedoms of religion and expressive association guaranteed in the First Amendment. The church seeks a preliminary injunction that would allow ministers the choice of performing a religious marriage.

Although UCC is taking the lead, other individual places of worship have added their name to the lawsuit. (Charlotte Observer)

The Charlotte-area clergy members who have joined them include Allison of Holy Covenant; Robin Tanner, pastor of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church; Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth El; Nancy Kraft, pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran, and Nathan King, senior pastor at Trinity Reformed UCC in Concord.

They are joined by Asheville ministers Joe Hoffman of First Congregational UCC and Mark Ward of the city’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation; along with Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh.

I commend the denomination for this latest step in their long history of supporting the gay community. And I think that this may effectively illustrate for some that their insistence at imposing their own religious creeds into state law impose a burden not just on gay people but also on communities of faith.

Comments

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Nathaniel
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

Awesome! I have often wondered if this was possible. I imagine that this action is coming too late to actually be responsible for overturning the NC amendment, but it is certainly great for illustrating how religiously restrictive anti-gay laws really are.

On a different note, I am surprised you have not commented yet on the incident involving the Christian music group Jars of Clay.

Ben In Oakland
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

About time the NALT Christians actually stopped talking at each other and took a positive political step for both gay people and religious freedom. I’ve been wondering when they would do this for the past 15 or 20 years

Timothy Kincaid
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

Nathaniel,

I haven’t had a lot of free time lately to post about much of anything, and trying to keep up with the comments on another thread has pretty much taken the time I have had.

This one didn’t take much research so up it went. The Jars of Clay story would require much more time.

I’ve wanted to post about it, about the Methodist church in Seattle the was kicked out of the Boy Scouts, about a number of developments in marriage cases, about NOM’s definition of “homosexual activist” and a lot more. I hope I can find a way to get back to more frequent posting.

Timothy Kincaid
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

Ben,

The problem with the NALT Christians is that they are also the ‘not impose my faith on you’ Christians. That worldview tends not to engage as much in politics which, unfortunately, has left the playing field to the ‘you will do what my god demands’ crowd.

Nathaniel
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

Timothy,
Me too. Now that you mention it, there have been quite a few things I have been hoping to hear BTB blogger opinions on. Hopefully you will find the time. I’ve noticed some of those comment-generating pieces. I found too many of the comments to be vitriolic, repetitive or otherwise unhelpful on my own reflections of the topic, so I haven’t tried to keep up with them. But, I can understand why this site’s bloggers would feel obligated to do so.

Ben,
there is also a lot of behind-the-scenes work that garners less attention than the loud mouths of the “impose my views” crowd. For example, a multi-denominational organization of Christian ministers and lay leaders played an important role in keeping NC from pushing an anti-gay amendment for many years, even as NC’s Southern neighbors jumped on the bandwagon. That is why it was 2012, and not 2004 or earlier when that action happened. And even then, it only happened because of Obamacare-created shifts in the political sands. Of course, not enacting an amendment hardly attracts headlines. Much NALT work has inherently been less in-your-face and less headline-grabbing.

JohnAGJ
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

I preface this by noting I am not a lawyer or have any great sense of the nuances of the law by any stretch of the imagination. That being said, while I support any effort from religious groups like UCC to move civil SSM forward, I do not see how their suit can be valid. Religious groups that have doctrinal beliefs on marriage not respected by the law, such as polygamy, could just as easily make such a claim and I don’t believe the courts would uphold then. Take for instance FLDS or some Islamic group. If not recognizing SSM performed by UCC is a violation of their religious rights, even though the ceremonies are not prohibited by law, then why isn’t it the same for those polygamous unions sanctioned by these other groups? You KNOW the Right will be bringing this up…

Merv
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

I wonder what prompted these NALTs to break their vow of silence.

Ben in Oakland
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

John, that will be a tight squeeze for them, endorsing both polygamy and Mormonism.

But isn’t it always the way of it? They’re the ones claiming that if they allow gay marriage, then we must allow polygamy marriage, incest marriage, toaster marriage, child marriage, and horse marriage.

I don’t recall us bringing up the subject.

Ben M
April 28th, 2014 | LINK

Technically, one can argue that the ceremonies are prohibited as well….

§ 51-6. Solemnization without license unlawful.
No minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State shall perform a ceremony of marriage between a man and woman, or shall declare them to be husband and wife, until there is delivered to that person a license for the marriage of the said persons, signed by the register of deeds of the county in which the marriage license was issued or by a lawful deputy or assistant. There must be at least two witnesses to the marriage ceremony.

revchicoucc
April 29th, 2014 | LINK

@Merv. The United Church of Christ has not been silent on LGBT equality. In 2005, when MA was the only state to offer marriage equality, the national assembly of the UCC (known as the General Synod) voted the support marriage equality. In April 1969, two months before Stonewall, an agency of the UCC called for full civil rights protection for “homosexual persons.” In 1972, the UCC ordained an openly gay man as a minister and has continued to do so. We have had and do have national officers who are openly LGBT. Among Christian churches in the US, the United Church of Christ has been consistent and persistent in advocating for LGBT equality for over 40 years. I am a UCC minister, and I know we have not been silent. We have not necessarily been heard, but we have not been silent!

jpeckjr
April 29th, 2014 | LINK

The Iowa Supreme Court made the point in its ruling establishing marriage equality that, on the religious aspect of marriage, limiting marriage to opposite gender couples might very well violate the “free exercise” rights of those religious bodies that supported same-gender marriage. The question was not before them, but they addressed it because it was an “unspoken” aspect of the case. I have a copy of that ruling somewhere. If I find it, I’ll quote a relevant passage. This case, though, seems to be the first one to put the “free exercise” question before any court. It’s worth asking.

Merv
April 29th, 2014 | LINK

@revchicoucc – Where is the NALT equivalent of FRC, NOM, ADF, CWA, FoF, AFA, TBN, CBN, etc., etc.?

JEM
April 29th, 2014 | LINK

Ben M hit it on the head, I believe. I am a member of a UCC church.

I think some large percentage of the articles written about or in support of the UCC suit have been confusing. The writers claim the UCC is suing because the ban prohibits our ministers from performing the kinds of same-sex marriages that are legal in 17 states.

As I understand it, the ban actually prohibits ministers from performing anything like a “blessing ceremony”, which might take the form of a wedding without the civil component.

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