United Church of Christ Challenges North Carolina's Same-Sex Marriage Ban on Religious Liberty Grounds

The United Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., challenged the state's ban on same-sex marriages by filing a lawsuit at the U.S. federal court, arguing that the law interferes with its religious liberty rights, while a pro-traditional marriage group called the lawsuit "the latest attack on marriage."

"The United Church of Christ is an inclusive church of extravagant welcome, founded on the Constitution's guarantee of the free exercise of religion, and the United Church of Christ believes this freedom should be guarded, protected and defended," said the Rev. Bernard R. Wilson, chairperson of the United Church of Christ Board, in a statement on Monday. "That is the reason the UCC took this legal action in North Carolina today."

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition and former Chairwoman of Vote for Marriage NC, responded in a statement on Monday to the lawsuit, which was filed by several members of the clergy and six same-sex couples:

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"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."

While 17 states and the District of Columbia currently have legalized same-sex marriage, the majority, including N.C., define marriage as between a man and a woman.

The United Church of Christ, which advocates for including same-sex couples in the definition of marriage, offered as an example two of its members, Lisa Cloninger and Kathi Smith, who have been together for 13 years and wish to be married by their pastor, the Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison.

Allison would face legal consequences for conducting such a marriage, however, something which the lawsuit seeks to change.

"Lisa and Kathi have demonstrated their deep and abiding commitment to one another and to the congregation for more than a decade," Allison remarked. "As their pastor, I have walked with them through some dark times. Having the opportunity to now celebrate their marriage - both ceremonially and legally in the church which has nurtured them and with the Christian friends who support them - is a joyous opportunity."

Fitzgerald said, however, that it is "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."

The majority of protestant denominations in the U.S., as well as the Roman Catholic Church, uphold the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, and have stood up in support of that definition in several states against legal attempts to change it.

In February, Lutherans, Mormons, Catholics, evangelicals and Southern Baptists joined together against attempts to legalize same-sex marriage in Utah and Oklahoma by submitting a 42-page court brief to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"Our respective religious doctrines hold that marriage between a man and a woman is sanctioned by God as the right and best setting for bearing and raising children," the brief stated.

"We believe that children, families, society, and our nation thrive best when husband-wife marriage is upheld and strengthened as a cherished, primary social institution."

The brief also challenged the accusation that gay marriage opponents are "irrational" or "bigoted" by stating that such remarks are intended to "to suppress rational dialogue and democratic conversation, to win by insult and intimidation rather than by reason, experience, and fact."

"In truth, we support the husband-wife definition of marriage because we believe it is right and good for children, families, and society. Our respective faith traditions teach us that truth. But so do reason, long experience, and social fact," the groups explained.

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