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Seeking marriage equality in North Carolina

Part 10:
2014: Reactions to the United Church of
Christ's
lawsuit seeking marriage equality.
Possible future impact of the lawsuit.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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On this website, the acronym "SSM" means same-sex marriages;
"LGBT" refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/transsexual community;
"marriage equality" refers to state laws and a state constitution
that allows both opposite-sex and same-sex couples to marry.

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wedding ringsReactions to the UCC lawsuit: 1

Religious and social liberals and conservatives have entirely different points of view on matters like same-sex marriage, marriage equality, and even the internal politcial structure of the United States.

One thing that they do agree on is that the individual states have the right to define who is eligible to marry within their boarders. However, many conservatives believe that whatever the people wish is the highest law, whereas most liberals hold the U.S. Constitution -- in particular the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th amendment -- to be the highest legal authority in the land.

Both liberals and conservatives are well aware that marriage rates are declining and that a growing percentage of children are born out of wedlock.  2 So, a common belief is that marriage is under attack. Many conservatives feel that SSM is the main destructive force and turn their attention to preventing loving, committed same-sex couples from marrying. Many liberals believe that one way to improve the status of marriage is to let those same-sex couples who want to become married actually be able to marry.

Unfortunately, as with so many conflicts in American society, very little constructive dialogue or even debate is ocurring to resolve these issues.

  • NC Values Coalition: Tami Fitzgerald is the Executive Director of the Coalition, which opposes SSM. She issued a statement saying:

    "This is sadly, and predictably, the 'lawsuit of the week' filed by those who want to impose same-sex marriage on North Carolina, in spite of the fact that 61% of the voters passed the Marriage Amendment 2 years ago. North Carolinians had good reason to protect marriage in our Constitution, recognizing that the union of a man and woman plays an irreplaceable role in the health of society, first of which is the protection of children.

    Moreover, it’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. These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity.

    We believe the people of North Carolina have spoken on this issue, and the federal courts have no business overturning the will of the people." 3

  • Freedom to Marry: Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry -- a group that supports SSM -- said that many religious leaders had supported same-sex marriage, but that the United Church of Christ lawsuit was unusual, He said:

    "In their zeal to pile on to denying the freedom to marry, North Carolina officials also put in place a measure that assaulted the religious freedom that they profess to support by penalizing and seeking to chill clergy that have different views. The extent to which North Carolina went to deny the freedom to marry wound up additionally discriminating on the basis of religion by restricting speech and the ability of clergy to do their jobs." 4

  • Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, and a plaintiff in the case, said:

    "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." 5

  • Rev. Joe Hoffman, pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, NC, said:

    "It takes away the right I have in my religious tradition to do something important in my faith -- to marry people." 5

  • Rev. Nancy Allison is pastor of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ and is another plaintiff. She said:

    "North Carolina judges some of its citizens as unfit for the blessings of God. We reject that notion. ... The sacraments of baptism and communion are open to all. So should all God’s children be able to receive marriage." 6

  • Rev. Clint Pressley is pastor of Hickory Grove Baptist Church, one of the city’s largest congregations. He said:

    “It boils down to a view on the authority of Scripture. The denominations listed have abandoned almost 2,000 years of Christian Orthodoxy. It’s not surprising." 6

  • David Hains, spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, said:

"This lawsuit does not change the fact that God created men and women differently. The fruits of that difference are marriage and the continuance of the human race through children." 6

  • Simon Brown, writing for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said:

    "This UCC lawsuit is an important development because it serves as a reminder that not all Christian clergy are against same-sex marriage, and it shows that these bans on same-sex unions don’t actually 'protect' clergy from being forced to perform marriage ceremonies that they do not support." 7

  • Laura Riddick, Register of Deeds in Wake County, was shocked when she found out that she had been named as a defendant. She said:

    "It's ridiculous for any registry to be sued over same-gender marriage, which is a matter of state law, not county policy. Only the legislature or the courts can change the law. Our job as county administrators is to apply the law as it is, just as we will apply the law if it changes. Suing us misleads the public, wastes county taxpayer dollars and creates unnecessary conflict." 8

  • Jake Sussman, attorney for the plaintiffs, said:

    "This lawsuit introduces a First Amendment claim that the marriage ban in North Carolina violates the right to the free exercise of religious beliefs by denominations, clergy and congregants who believe that same sex marriages are theologically valid and want to perform marriage ceremonies." 8

  • Paul Gallant, a top commenter on NewsObserver.com posted:

    "I find it interesting that right wing Christians pushed this into law because [same-sex marriage is] ... against their religious beliefs and now left wing Christians say the law violates their Christian beliefs. How about we leave marriage up to individuals and leave the government out of it? Less government! You would think right wingers would be all for this." 8

  • Mick Voiland,

    "I'd guess that a re-vote today on the NC same-sex marriage amendment would show support waning, and be closer to a 50:50 split." 8

  • Lewie Wells, a third top commenter on NewsObserver.com posted:

    "Tami Fitzgerald ... loves to boast that 61% of voters approved Amendment 1 while leaving out the facts on how slyly this was even rammed thru the legislature to begin with, out on what was at the time a Republican primary, and backed by her activist judges. What her limited legal experience doesnt seem to understand, is that even voter majority referendums can be found unconstitutional, She should read Windsor v. United States. Any high school government class student could tell you that if a law is found to be unconstitutional on the federal level, then surely it is on the state level as well. I would like to think she knew that already but ignored that little fact and used this discriminatory amendment as a means to prove her zeal to her God. 8

  • Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary commented on the draconian laws in North Carolina that subject clergy to prosecution and a possible jail sentence if they marry a same-sex couple:

    "This is a case we’re going to have to watch very closely and it puts those of us who advocate both for marriage as the union of a man and a woman and for religious liberty, including the liberty of Christians to hold fast to a Christian and biblical understanding of marriage, in a very difficult position.

    Evangelical Christians must both understand and affirm our understanding that religious liberty for us means religious liberty for all and that means that even as we advocate for religious liberty, we have to understand that the guarantee of religious liberty means the freedom of heretics to teach heresy. If we deny religious liberty for others, very soon others will deny religious liberty to us. That’s fair warning and this case bears close attention." 9

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Possible future and impact of this lawsuit:

According to the Charlotte Observer, there are 66 active cases dealing with marriage equality that are progressing through the federal court system in various states of the U.S. Three of them are active in North Carolina. The UCC lawsuit was filed in the District Court's Charlotte Division. The other two cases were filed in the Greensboro district. For this reason the three cannot be combined into a single lawsuit. 6

Meanwhile, an appeal of a decision by a District Court in Virginia that overturned VA's ban on SSM is scheduled to be heard before a three-judge panel of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, VA during mid 2014-MAY. A ruling in that case is expected to be handed down in the fall. If the panel upholds the District Court's ruling, then it is possible that the panel's ruling in the Virginia case could overturn similar bans in the other states that are under the jurisdiction of the Fourth Circuit Court. This includes West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Maryland is also under the jurisdiction of the 4th circuit Court, but it already has implemented marriage equality. So, it is possible that progress on the UCC case may suddenly halt, and marriage equality could come simultaneously to four states.

It is no secret that Christian denominations are losing older teen and young adult members in large numbers. Many are leaving and apparently are not coming back. Surveys have shown that people in this age group are turned off by the denominations' negative attitude towards science in general, and both human sexuality and the LGBT community in particular. Seeing that a major Christian denomination is now suing the North Carolina government for the religious freedom to marry same-sex couples may well cause the recently departed to rethink their decision. They may realize that there is an enormous range of beliefs among the world's tens of thousands of Christian faith groups. This lawsuit may well have a very positive impact on overall Christian denominations' membership numbers. It may also increase losses in conservative Christian denominations.

One curious phenomenon has occurred with the UCC lawsuit that we have never seen before. Usually when there is some development in a state over marriage equality, the usual groups who oppose same-sex marriage like the National Organization for Marriage, the Family Research Council, Citizenlink, OneNewsNow, the Patriot Channel on Sirius radio etc. give it major coverage. But all of these news sources, and other conservative marriage-ralated sites, appear to be ignoring the development.

Media Matters, a liberal group that monitors accuracy in the media, commented:

"Given social conservatives' self-appointed role as guardians of religious freedom, the North Carolina case would seem ripe for their attention.

But now that religious liberty is being invoked to oppose a gay marriage ban, will right-wing media rush to tout the cause of a pro-equality church?

Conservatives who rushed to defend "religious liberty" legislation like Arizona SB 1062 have so far been silent on the case. The New York Times' Ross Douthat, who penned a column supporting Arizona's bill on religious liberty grounds, has yet to comment on the UCC case on his blog. A TV Eyes search shows that Fox News -- which regularly features segments titled "The Fight for Faith" -- hasn't taken up the UCC's mantle. The same goes for anti-gay conservatives like Starnes, Shapiro, and Erickson. 10

Their silence is deafening.

However, during early 2014-OCT, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. ruled for the UCC. Marriage was extended to same-sex couples in the state. More details.

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Discussion of same-sex marriage in North Carolina continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Text of complaint in General Synod of The United Church of Christ et al v. Cooper et al, 2014-APR-26, at: http://uccfiles.com/pdf/complaint.pdf
  2. "Rick Santorum says over 40 percent of children are born out of wedlock," PolitiFact, 2012-FEB-24, at: http://www.politifact.com/
  3. "Fitzgerald Responds to Latest Attack on Marriage," NC Values Coalition, 2014-APR-28, at: http://ncvalues.org/
  4. Michael Paulson, "North Carolina’s Gay-Marriage Ban Is Challenged by Church," The New York Times, 2014-APR-28, at: http://www.nytimes.com/
  5. Yonat Shimron, "United Church of Christ sues over North Carolina gay marriage ban," Religion News Service, 2014-APR-28, at: http://www.religionnews.com/
  6. Michael Gordon, "United Church of Christ sues over NC ban on same-sex marriage," Charlotte Observer, 2014-APR-28, at: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/
  7. Simon Brown, "Clergy To The Rescue: United Church Of Christ Challenges North Carolina’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban," Americans United, 2014-APR-29, at: https://www.au.org/
  8. Mitch Weiss, "Lawsuit: Unusual approach against gay marriage ban," News Observer, 2014-APR-28, at: http://www.newsobserver.com/
  9. R.A. Mohler, Jr., "The Briefing," AlbertMohler.com, 2014-APR-29, at: http://www.albertmohler.com/
  10. Luke Brinker, "The One Religious Liberty Case Anti-Gay Conservatives Want To Ignore," Media Matters, 2014-APR-28, at: http://mediamatters.org/

Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2014-MAY-02
Latest update: 2014-MAY-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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