In a twist on the conservative argument over the separation of church and state, a group of clergymen filed suit in North Carolina today challenging state laws that make it illegal for them to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples within their congregations.
The clergymen, representing the United Church of Christ, as well as Lutheran, Baptist, and Unitarian congregations jointly filed a federal challenge to Amendment One – recently passed by voters – in Western District of North Carolina.
The addition to the North Carolina Constitution prohibited the state from recognizing or performing same-sex marriages or civil unions.
The 2012 initiative was approved by voters 61% to 39%.
According to a plaintiff in the case, Rev. Joe Hoffman, Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville, NC, “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. But Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right.”
According to the Campaign for Southern Equality, today’s suit is the first of 66 marriage equality suits filed nationally to evoke the First Amendment’s right to the free exercise of religion.
“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.”
The full complaint can be read here (pdf)
[Minister blessing a gay couple on Shutterstock]