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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 2 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 18
United Church of Christ sues North Carolina over marriage - First Amendment challenge to marriage bans
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United Church of Christ sues North Carolina over marriage - First Amendment challenge to marriage bans

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The United Church of Christ and a group of other clergy and same-sex couples have filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage.

The lawsuit, filed on April 28, makes a novel argument. Instead of claiming that North Carolina's ban on Gay and Lesbian marriages violates the due process and equal protection rights of the couples who wish to marry, this suit says that North Carolina is violating the religious freedom of denominations which support same-sex marriages and the clergy who want to perform them.

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, President of the United Church of Christ, is one of the plaintiffs as are other UCC and Lutheran ministers.

'As a senior minister, I am often asked to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation,' said Rev. Joe Hoffman of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, who is a plaintiff.

'My denomination - the United Church of Christ - authorizes me to perform these ceremonies, but Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right.'

Two of Hoffman's parishoners, Diane Ansley and Cathy McGaughey, are also plaintiffs. They have been together for 14 years and wish to be married in their home state.

The United Church of Christ, which has nearly a million members, approved a resolution endorsing marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2005.

'The core protection of the First Amendment is that government may not regulate religious beliefs or take sides in religious controversies,' said Jonathan Martel of Arnold & Porter LLP, one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs.

'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.'

'I am excited to see this challenge to Amendment One move forward,' said Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro, who attended the Charlotte press conference. 'We fought hard to defeat Amendment One [the same-sex marriage ban], and I am glad to see the harms it has caused highlighted.'

Equality North Carolina and the South Carolina Equality Coalition filed an amicus brief on April 18 with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, in a lawsuit that challenges Virginia's same-sex marriage ban. The Fourth Circuit also has jurisdiction over North Carolina.

The appeals court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Virginia case in May.

The ACLU of North Carolina filed a separate lawsuit in April on behalf of three married same-sex couples who are seeking legal recognition of their unions in North Carolina. The also filed a federal lawsuit in 2012 against North Carolina's second-parent adoption ban, and later expanded that case to directly challenge the state's marriage laws.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said last October that while he personally supports marriage rights for same-sex couples, he would defend his state's ban in court. Cooper's announcement came just after Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger accepted marriage license applications from 10 same-sex couples.

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