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San Diego Churches Affirm Freedom of Religion
United Church of Christ Lawsuit Says North Carolina Laws Restrict Freedom of Religion,
Church Argues Laws Designed to Prevent Gay Marriage Restrict Ministers from Performing Marriage
Ceremonies, Violate First Amendment
San Diego, CA – Member congregations of the United Church of Christ in San Diego uphold the suit brought in North Carolina by their denomination yesterday on the grounds of religious freedom. The General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) filed a lawsuit yesterday in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, arguing that North Carolina laws defining and regulating marriage as being between a man and woman restrict UCC ministers from performing their religious duties and are unconstitutional.
“Even before California legalized same-gender marriage, I was never prohibited by law from celebrating any religious marriage. We have been an open and affirming house of faith for all couples who sought God’s blessing on their vows of marriage,” said Rev. Scott Landis of Mission Hills United Church of Christ.
The State of North Carolina prevents couples of the same gender from obtaining a marriage license and makes it a crime for ministers to officiate at a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a license. The UCC says the law limits ministers’ choices, violates the principle of “free exercise of religion” upon which the church is built, and restricts the freedoms of religion and expressive association guaranteed in the First Amendment. The UCC seeks a preliminary injunction that would allow ministers to choose whether to perform a religious marriage. “Where other churches have tried to criminalize this exercise of religious freedom, our denomination has filed suit to protect Religious Freedom on behalf of all religious leadership. I’m proud that we are part of this landmark case,” said the Rev. Kaji Dousa of the United Church of Christ of La Mesa.
Here in San Diego, United Church of Christ congregations and ministers celebrate that they have the legal and religious authority to officiate at any marriage without interference from the state. “Our affirmation of marriage for all couples, regardless of gender, is a hallmark of our justice work,” said Rev. J. Lee Hill of Christian Fellowship United Church of Christ.
In 2012, North Carolina voters approved Amendment One, which limited a domestic legal union to a covenant between a man and woman. Under state laws consistent with Amendment One, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn’t obtained a license, and such a license may not be issued to same-gender couples. A Class 1 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 120 days in jail and/or probation and community service. In addition, the laws allow anyone to sue the minister who performs a marriage ceremony without a license and collect up to $200 if they prevail.
Here in California, legal prohibition against same gender marriage was overturned and became legal in 2013. Now couples married at United Church of Christ congregations receive the Blessing of the Church and the State. For more information, contact Rev. Darryl Kistler, 619.371.7854.