This morning in Charlotte, North Carolina, the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. This suit argues that the current law in North Carolina, as it pertains to marriage, violates religious freedom by prohibiting UCC ministers, and other clergy, from officiating at same-sex marriages.
After the passage of Amendment One in 2012, it became illegal for a member of the clergy to officiate at a wedding where a marriage license is not present. And, of course, in North Carolina, it is impossible for a same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license. That means that any member of the clergy who officiates at a same-sex marriage in the state may be sentenced to "120 days in jail and/or probation and community service."
In other words, the state of North Carolina is telling clergy that it is illegal to pray in the manner in which they see fit.
For those of us who are people of faith, marriage is more than just a civil ceremony. It is also a religious one. And under the current law, even if a member of the clergy is only intending to perform a religious ritual, and not to legally marry a same-sex couple, they could be arrested.
The United Church of Christ, along with several other Christian denominations as well as other religious traditions, has long advocated for equal marriage. In 2005, the denomination passed a resolution which affirmed, "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender and declares that government should not interfere with couples regardless of gender who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities and commitment of legally recognized marriage."
That means that for the 1 million plus members of the UCC, and especially the members of over 150 UCC churches in North Carolina, state law is requiring them to choose between what is religiously permissible in their denomination and what is legally permissible in their state. In other words, North Carolina state law is making it a crime for some Christians to freely exercise their religion.
We often hear that religious liberty is under attack in our country. Often the fact that same-sex couples are allowed to marry is cited as evidence of this attack. But, as this law makes clear, the religious liberty of same-sex couples and their officiating clergy is what is truly being blatantly attacked. This should outrage anyone who claims to believe in religious freedom.
There are couples in North Carolina who are waiting to be able to legally and religiously marry. There are many clergy who are standing by ready to officiate at their weddings. And there is a law that is stopping them.
Today, the United Church of Christ, along with plaintiffs which include three UCC ministers, two Unitarian Universalist clergy, one Lutheran pastor, one Baptist minister, and one rabbi, as well as the eight extraordinarily courageous and faithful couples they seek to marry, are taking a stand for religious freedom in North Carolina. They are standing up for true religious liberty. And they are saying it is no longer acceptable to oppress the religious rights of all in the name of the religious preferences of the few.
May God bless them, and may God bless North Carolina with true religious freedom.
Follow Rev. Emily C. Heath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emilycheath