CHARLOTTE, NC — A group of liberal clerics have filed a legal challenge against North Carolina’s same-sex ‘marriage ban,’ asserting that it violates the free exercise of religion among clergy.
The Cleveland, Ohio-based United Church of Christ (UCC), which is outside of biblical orthodoxy and was the first American religious group to ordain homosexuals and affirm abortion, filed the suit in federal court on Monday. Several local clergy members from within the UCC and those from other sects also joined the litigation. It is the first lawsuit to challenge a state marriage amendment on religious grounds.
The plaintiffs assert that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex “marriage” unlawfully bars them from serving a certain sector of the public, thus inhibiting their liberty to perform their clerical duties.
“By denying same-sex couples the right to marry and prohibiting religious denominations even from performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, the State of North Carolina stigmatizes same-sex couples, as well as the religious institutions and clergy that believe in equal rights,” the suit states, as reported by the Charlotte Observer.
“The United Church of Christ is an inclusive church of extravagant welcome founded on the Constitution’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion,” Dr. Bernard Wilson, chairman of the UCC Board of Directors added to the Plain Dealer. “The United Church of Christ believes this freedom should be guarded, protected and defended, and is the reason the United Church of Christ took this legal action in North Carolina today.”
“Amendment one denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation,” also contended Joe Hoffman of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, one of the plaintiffs in the case.
Amendment One was a ballot initiative that passed with 61 percent of the vote in 2012. It enshrined marriage in the state as being between a man and a woman.
“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State,” it reads.
Hoffman is joined by nearly a dozen other clergy members and homosexuals who are seeking that the court find the amendment as being unconstitutional, including: Robin Tanner of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church; Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth El; Nancy Kraft of Holy Trinity Lutheran, Nathan King of Trinity Reformed UCC in Concord; Mark Ward of Asheville Unitarian Universalist Congregation and Nancy Petty of Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh.
“By preventing our same-sex congregants from forming their own families, the North Carolina ban on same-sex marriage burdens my ability and the ability of my congregation to form a faith community of our choosing consistent with the principles of our faith,” Petty told the Religion News Service.
But other ministers in the state say that because many of those involved in the suit have long abandoned biblical Christianity, the litigation comes as no surprise.
“It boils down to a view on the authority of Scripture,” Clint Pressley of Hickory Grove Baptist Church told the Charlotte Observer. “The denominations listed have abandoned almost 2,000 years of Christian Orthodoxy. It’s not surprising.”
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, likewise lamented the actions of the religious groups that filed the legal challenge.
“[I]t’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,” she said in a statement this week. “These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity.”