Battle of Church and State (United Church of Christ vs the State of North Carolina)
Religious Leaders Seek the Right to Wed Same-Sex Couples in their Congregations
On April 28th, a federal legal challenge to Amendment One was filed in the Western District of North Carolina on behalf of clergy from across faith traditions, same-sex couples and the United Church of Christ. The case challenges the constitutionality of marriage laws in North Carolina including Amendment One that ban marriage between same-sex couples and make it illegal for clergy to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples within their congregations. Clergy plaintiffs seek the religious freedom to perform these ceremonies and same-sex couples seek the freedom to marry. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and Arnold & Porter LLP.
As far as I know, it "just" keeps the state from recognizing it legally. The church is free to perform a wedding and consider it a marriage within the church.
Or is there something beyond Amendment One that I haven't seen?
Truthfully, I was of two minds about hitting "post" on what is essentially pure snark, which I don't often indulge.
I love the UCC. If I were going to go all mainstream Protestant Christian, they'd be my peeps.
There's a UCC church here in town and they're very open and accepting of everyone. They're in the bohemian (or, as I like to affectionately call it, "hippie granola" part of town and seem super liberal. They were among a very small handful of churches here in Memphis who were against the invasion of Iraq, too, and their anti-war position has never wavered. Good on them for standing up and pushing back.
Very, very inclusive and welcoming.
I am very happy to see them aggressively pursuing things like this.
Glad you have one in your town. Not everyone is so lucky.
Love Memphis. Hope you stay safe and that the storms end soon.
You get any further left of them and you have possibly godless and often atheist/agnostic Unitarian-Universalists, who pray "To whom it may concern." (Old UU joke).
As an attorney, I think this will be a very interesting suit with several important principles colliding.
but a dead-bang loser of a case. Freedom of religion does not give any religious denomination or member of the clergy the ultimate right to make a marriage legal. That power properly rests solely with the civil government, since it is the civil government that grants the rights associated with it. In the end, the church ceremony is just window dressing. Only the piece of paper matters, and churches don't get to issue that, nor should they.
You need to understand that there are criminal penalties involved here.
...has been the law of the land.
But looking back at the struggle that led to that, a decade ago Clergy in New York were being charged with crimes for daring to marry gay couples.
Looks like the battle of Church vs State has begun...(My money is on Church!)
Posted on Mon, Mar. 15, 2004
New York ministers charged for marrying gays
By MICHAEL HILL
KINGSTON, N.Y. - Two ministers were charged with criminal offenses Monday for marrying 13 gay couples in what is believed to be the first time in the United States that clergy members have been prosecuted for performing same-sex ceremonies.
District Attorney Donald Williams said gay marriage laws make no distinction between public officials and members of the clergy who preside over wedding ceremonies.
Unitarian Universalist ministers Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey were charged with multiple counts of solemnizing a marriage without a license, the same charges leveled against New Paltz Mayor Jason West, who last month drew the state into the widening national debate over same-sex unions.
The charges carry a fine of $25 to $500 or up to two years in jail.
"As far as I know that's unprecedented," said Mark Shields a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights group. "It's ridiculous that prosecutors would spend their time charging anyone with a crime who is simply trying to unite two people with basic rights and protections."
Greenleaf, who acknowledged performing the ceremonies in New Paltz knowing the couples did not have licenses, said she signed an affidavit for the couples and considers the ceremonies civil.
Williams said he decided to press charges because the marriages were "drastically different" from religious ceremonies because Greenleaf and Sangrey publicly said they considered them civil. Some Unitarian ministers, Greenleaf included, have been performing ceremonies for gay couples since before the issue entered the national debate.
"It is not our intention to interfere with anyone's right to express their religious beliefs, including the right of members of the clergy to perform ceremonies where couples are united solely in the eyes of the church or any other faith," Williams said.
Williams had said before Monday's charges were announced that it would be more difficult considering charges against clergy because the clergy had not sworn to uphold the law.
He said his decision to press charges was influenced by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's opinion that gay marriage is illegal in New York and by the injunction issued by a state supreme court justice against West.
The ministers performed the weddings March 6.
On Saturday, Greenleaf and Sangrey were joined by a third minister, the Rev. Marion Visel, in performing 25 more ceremonies, which went off without protests or arrests. It could not immediately be learned if more charges would be brought.
The ministers' lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, was unaware of the charges when contacted by The Associated Press and declined comment.
Unitarian Universalists have roots in a movement that rejected Puritan orthodoxy in New England, and they support a free search for spiritual truth. Atheists and pagans are a significant part of their membership.
Unitarians have backed gay rights since 1970, and not only endorse same-sex unions, but some churches also offer the couples premarital counseling. The denomination counts nearly 215,000 people as members nationwide, according to the 2004 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.
West married 25 gay and lesbian couples Feb. 27 in a highly publicized marathon ceremony. West is now under a court order temporarily halting the weddings.
The link is no longer active at the Miami Herald a decade later in 2014, but the above is copied from a post of mine on another internet forum a decade ago.
Charges in Same-Sex Nuptials
N.Y. Clergy Protest, Vow to Wed More
By Alan Cooperman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
A New York district attorney filed criminal charges yesterday against two Unitarian Universalist ministers for performing same-sex weddings, the first attempted prosecution in the United States of clergy for marrying gay couples.
Ulster County District Attorney Donald A. Williams brought the charges against the Rev. Kay Greenleaf and the Rev. Dawn Sangrey, who performed 13 same-sex marriages in a scenic field in New Paltz, N.Y., two weekends ago. Williams previously filed identical charges against New Paltz Mayor Jason West.
Dozens of rabbis and ministers across New York state responded to the charges by pledging to continue performing same-sex religious ceremonies, even at the risk of arrest. As of yesterday afternoon, 83 ordained clergy had signed the pledge, which began with 20 signers last Thursday, according to Rabbi Ayelet Cohen of New York City's Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the world's largest gay Jewish congregation.
"We absolutely are prepared to be arrested for this, because it's a matter of justice," Cohen said.
Clearly anticipating controversy, Williams issued a lengthy statement explaining his rationale for the charges. "This office fully understands, appreciates and supports the significance of separation of Church and State," the statement said, adding that "it is not our intention to interfere with anyone's right to express their religious beliefs, including the right of members of the clergy to perform ceremonies where couples are united solely in the eyes of the Church or any other faith."
But, he continued, the March 6 ceremonies performed by Greenleaf and Sangrey are "drastically different" because they had "proclaimed their intent to perform civil marriages under the authority vested in them by New York State law, rather than performing purely religious ceremonies."
An attorney for the two ministers, Robert C. Gottlieb, said they will plead not guilty and demand a jury trial on the misdemeanor charges, which carry a possible penalty of a year in prison and $500 in fines on each count.
"We will let the good people of New Paltz decide whether these two ministers are really criminals," he said. "They did not violate the law. Their only intention was to uphold the law, the Constitution and the right to be free from discrimination. The only people who violated the law here are the clerks who refused to issue the licenses."
Several U.S. religious groups -- including the Reform and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and some Episcopal clergy -- routinely bless same-sex couples and favor allowing gay civil marriage. Many other denominations ban such ceremonies and vigorously oppose changing marriage laws.
Again, a dead link from a decade ago. See my old post here:
What about it? As much as I might think that same-sex marriage SHOULD be legal in North Carolina (and everywhere else), as much as the UCC clergy think so, the plain fact is that it's not, and it is not, and should not be, within the power of any religious organization to make it so. They can perform any kind of ceremony they want in their church for same-sex couples, but if they are misrepresenting to couples that the ceremony makes the marriage legal when it really doesn't, that's wrong. That's what this law is about. The church's authority to be one of the approved performers of legal marriage ceremonies is properly subordinate to the state's right to decide to what marriages it will grant legal sanction, and the rights associated with it.
Should a law school be allowed to hand their students a certificate at graduation saying that they are now licensed to practice law anywhere in the country, before they'd even passed the bar exam? Of course not. Any law school that did so would be in the wrong, and the government would be within their rights to tell them to stop, or to impose legal sanctions if they didn't. Same principle.
Performing the ceremony is itself illegal. So the Sherbert Test, from Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), enters in. There are four parts to the Sherbert Test:
For the individual, the court must determine
* Whether the person has a claim involving a sincere religious belief, and
* Whether the government action is a substantial burden on the person's ability to act on that belief.
If these two elements are established, then the government must prove
* That it is acting in furtherance of a "compelling state interest," and
* That it has pursued that interest in the manner least restrictive, or least burdensome, to religion.
I daresay that the state is going to have difficulty under this, especially the third prong of the test.
Last edited Tue Apr 29, 2014, 12:46 PM - Edit history (1)
What ceremony, specifically? A commitment ceremony? A ceremony to celebrate a life partnership? No. That's not what they're asking to be allowed to do. The law doesn't prevent that. The complaint is about churches not being allowed to perform marriage ceremonies specifically, between people who cannot legally marry. Freedom of religion does not give a religious body that right, nor should any sensible person want it to.
It's a legal loser. Trying to throw a "religious freedom" argument into the mix is just silly, and has no constitutional basis in this case. The use of an equal protection argument to compel civil governments to permit and recognize same-sex marriages has been successful in a number of jurisdictions-it's a proven winner. Why screw it up by adding an argument that has no basis and that no court will accept (i.e. that "religious freedom" gives a religious body the right to usurp the power of civil government to dictate laws concerning marriage)?
To quote from the source cited in post #3 in this thread:
So, the argument of the plaintiffs is that under the amendment, conducting a religious ceremony for same-sex couples, which the UCC sees as being just as valid and proper as a marriage ceremony for opposite-sex couples, is illegal. Thus, it violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. For you to say that this is a "legal loser" is simply silliness on your part.
It is a religious law based on a particular type of religion. Maybe the way to best attack it is on religious grounds.