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Lawsuit: unusual approach against gay marriage ban


CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - A coalition of clergy members filed a novel federal lawsuit Monday against North Carolina's constitutional ban on gay marriage, saying it violates their religious freedom.

The clergy members said that they'd like to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies in their congregations, but that they can't because of the "unjust law." Their attorney, Jake Sussman, says it's the only case to bring the First Amendment religious freedom claims among the more than 60 marriage equality cases pending in the nation's state and federal courts.

"North Carolina's marriage laws are a direct affront to freedom of religion," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister with the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "We feel that it is important that any person that comes into community life of a United Church of Christ congregation be afforded equal pastoral care and equal opportunity to religious services that clergy provide."

But in North Carolina, clergy are often faced with a troubling decision: "whether to provide those services or break the law," he said. "That's something no clergy member should be faced with."

Along with United Church of Christ, which has more than 1 million parishioners, a dozen clergy members and same sex-couples who want to marry were listed as plaintiffs. The defendants included North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and several county district attorneys.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman with the attorney general's office, said officials there hadn't seen the lawsuit yet.

This isn't the first legal challenge to North Carolina's law banning same-sex marriage, which was approved by voters in 2012.

The American Civil Liberties Union earlier this month launched a new legal assault on the state's ban on recognizing same-sex marriage, urging a federal judge to quickly negate it to help children and gay couples suffering from urgent health problems. The civil rights group said it was seeking to speed up a decision in a lawsuit filed in 2012 by citing the urgent health needs of a child who suffers from cerebral palsy who was adopted by one of the lesbian couples involved in the case.

The ACLU also filed a new lawsuit on behalf of three other lesbian couples struggling with health conditions made more difficult because they lack legal recognition of their marriages performed in other states, said ACLU staff attorney Elizabeth Gill.

The ACLU and the same-sex couples they represent argue a judge should act quickly to suspend North Carolina's marriage ban because they are suffering immediate and irreparable harm.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the federal government must recognize marriages of same-sex couples.

Seventeen states allow gay marriage, and federal judges have struck down bans in Michigan, Utah, Texas, Oklahoma and Virginia.

"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," he said.

But NC Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald, who helped lead a coalition of Christian and conservative groups supporting the state's 2012 constitutional amendment, said the lawsuit is an attempt to void the will of voters who backed traditional marriage. Six in 10 voters backed changing North Carolina's constitution.

"This is sadly, and predictably, the 'lawsuit of the week' filed by those who want to impose same-sex marriage on North Carolina," Fitzgerald said. "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."

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Pamela April 28 2014 at 6:57 PM

Now NE needs to sit up and do something right

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gregg07407 April 29 2014 at 9:59 AM

I'm all for marriage equality, but I doubt this flies... The churches can preform all te same sex ceremonies they want. They just won't carry the rule of law. Just like a civil official can preform the legal aspect of a wedding that isnt recognized in a church.

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1 reply
bike4funeat2bike gregg07407 April 29 2014 at 11:35 AM

I believe the complaint is about the state recognizing or allowing clergy to be the recorders for the marriage license. If the government allows religious org 1 to record civil licenses for all of their marriage ceremonies but, the state will not allow religious org 2 to record civil licenses for all of their marriage ceremonies; then there is discrimination between the religious organizations. Specifically, in the authority of the clergy to record through the state license all of their marriage ceremonies.
It is a very creative approach and will be interesting to watch the results of the proceedings. An unintended result could be that no clergy would be allowed to sign the state marriage license, it would have to be done by the county clerk only. Or, the state is made to recognize all marriages performed by a religious organization as legal.

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ktv813 April 29 2014 at 10:02 AM

I don't oppose gay marriage, but this is not grounded in reality. It will only violate the clergy's religious freedom if their religion is based on marrying same sex couples. If their religion is based on honoring a deity, then they are still free to do that. There are good reasons to allow same sex marriage, but this isn't one of them.

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5 replies
abbe4012 April 29 2014 at 9:09 AM

I find it ironic and sad that this entire coalition which purports to uphold Jesus Christ's TEACHINGS would look to a Loving God to justify their bigoted, denigrating, discriminating and errant beliefs.

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1 reply
Fearless Leader abbe4012 April 29 2014 at 9:30 AM

reps are like that...

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njenel April 29 2014 at 8:36 AM

NC voters decided? I WONDER!

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agent86nv April 29 2014 at 1:34 PM

Commom law marriage should get the same rights as gay marriage but they are overlooked. not fair

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English April 29 2014 at 9:05 AM

I thought marriage was a legal concept, thus the need for a license from the State, as opposed to a religious concept. Why is that single people are not protesting if marriage provides far more benefits than being single?

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1 reply
Scottilla English April 29 2014 at 9:13 AM

1. You can't have it both ways. If it's civil, then the rights of the same sex couples are being violated, if it's religious, then the rights of the inclusive religions are being violated.
2. They should be. The question for you is then, since the benefits of marriage concern the interaction of separate people, how will the reciprocal person be determined for a single person?

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John April 29 2014 at 1:34 AM

Thank goodness Constitutions are not ignored by whims of swayed populations. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to look any Germans in the eyes !! People who write Constitutions are generally in a pure spirit, not hammered by the will of the Loud !!

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makingextrabucks April 29 2014 at 2:39 PM

I have a serious question for you homosexuals that is not meant to be offensive, so please do not retaliate. I am not attacking you. I am just curious. I know many homosexuals that believe in God and am just curious, in your hearts, do you feel that homosexual acts please God or displease Him or that He truly doesn't care what you do with the lives He gave you?

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4 replies
rdbrgt April 29 2014 at 9:40 AM

It's about time that somebody recognized that this issue, as well as the abortion issue, is one of religious freedom. Laws against gay marriage and against abortion rights are based upon interpretations of the Bible, and are nothing less than an imposition of Christian ethics upon everyone in this country, regardless of their religious beliefs. It's time that Christians stop trying to impose their beliefs on everyone else and respect religious freedom rights.

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1 reply
vancecline rdbrgt April 29 2014 at 10:24 AM

Abortion is a 'religious' issue?? Since when is abortion even remotely associated with religion? Abortion is murder, legal or not. We do not have that choice. The choice is made prior to the act. Then responsibility becomes the issue. Abortion is an atrocity committed against a very defenseless little one for strictly selfish reasons. Even in cases of incest, rape, 'either the mother or the child', abortion is STILL murder, legal or not. The medical profession should do all they can for all parties and, if choices are to be made, leave them up to God, as we do not have the right to pick one life over another..

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