Politics Magazine

Same-Sex Marriage Ban Contested On Religious Grounds

Posted on the 01 May 2014 by Jobsanger
Same-Sex Marriage Ban Contested On Religious Grounds
There is an unusual court case happening in North Carolina. It is a case that seeks to overturn North Carolina's Amendment One -- an amendment to the state constitution passed in 2012 that bans all same-sex marriages in the state. Now you may be wondering what's so unusual about that, since their have been many court cases across the nation seeking to overturn same-sex marriage bans. But those cases generally attacked those bans on Fourteenth Amendment grounds (that they denied equal rights to same-sex couples), while this case attacks the ban on First Amendment grounds -- that it denies the religious rights of ministers and churches.
On Monday, Rev. Geoffrey Black, the national president of the United Church of Christ (which has 1.1 million members and 5,100 churches nationwide, with 24,000 members and 155 churches in North Carolina) announced that his organization has joined several North Carolina ministers (and a rabbi) and some same-sex couples to challenge the ban in court. The North Carolina religious figures are Senior Pastor Nathan King of Trinity Reformed UCC, Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth El, Pastor Robin Tanner of Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church, Pastor Nancy Allison of Holy Covenant UCC, Rev. Nancy Kraft of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, and Rev. Joe Hoffman of First Congregational UCC. These religious organizations are located in Charlotte, Concord, and Asheville, North Carolina.
The lawsuit alleges that the ban violates the rights of these religious leaders, their churches, and church members by preventing them from exercising their religious right to perform same-sex weddings for their members and for church members to attend and celebrate those weddings. Rev. Hoffman said:
"As a senior minister, I am often asked to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation."
"My denomination authorizes me to perform these ceremonies, but Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right."

And attorney Jonathan Martel, who is working on the case, said:
"The core protection of the First Amendment is that government may not regulate religious beliefs or take sides in religious controversies."
"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."

This is an ingenious attack on the odious marriage ban, and it just might work. I have always thought the court attacks on same-sex marriage by the religious right were specious at best. While those churches and ministers may well oppose same-sex marriage, which is their right, none of them would be forced to perform same-sex weddings or even approve of them if the ban did not exist. But the existence of the ban does prevent other ministers and churches from exercising their own religious rights, since it prohibits them from performing church-sanctioned weddings.
I have always believed that these bans on same-sex marriages violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, but this lawsuit has opened my eyes. I now believe it violates both the Fourteenth and First Amendments to the Constitution. I think this argument should probably be included in any future court cases. And I'm not even sure it would require the participation of any religious leaders, since any religious same-sex couple could claim their religious rights were being violated by denying them the right to a church-sanctioned marriage.
I don't often praise religious figures on this blog -- but these ministers (and rabbi) have earned my respect.

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