A group of North Carolina clergymen filed a lawsuit to claim their right to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies.
The clergymen represent the United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Baptist and Unitarian congregations. The church leaders joined to challenge Amendment One, a measure passed by almost two-thirds in North Carolina’s Western District in 2012.
The state’s constitution prohibits the state from recognizing or performing same-sex marriages or civil unions. But according to a plaintiff in the case, Rev. Joe Hoffman, Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, the right to perform wedding ceremonies is a matter of religious freedom.
“As senior minister, I am often asked to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation. My denomination – the United Church of Christ – authorizes me to perform these ceremonies,” Hoffman said. “But Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right.”
Another plaintiff in the case, Rev. Nancy Allison, says that baptism, communion and marriage should be open to all.
“North Carolina judges some of its citizens as unfit for the blessings of God. We reject that notion,” said the Rev. Allison, pastor of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ.
According to the Campaign for Southern Equality, 66 marriage cases have been filed nationally challenging discriminatory marriage laws, citing the First Amendment.
“The core protection of the First Amendment is that government may not regulate religious beliefs or take sides in religious controversies,” said attorney Jonathan Martel. “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.”
Same-sex couples have joined the plaintiffs in the complaint. Cathy Fry and Joanne Marinaro, residents of Charlotte who have been together for 28 years, say they have been waiting to be married in their church, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church.
“We’re waiting on North Carolina,” Marinaro said.