Raleigh, N.C. — More than a dozen clergy members on Monday delivered petitions containing about 30,000 signatures to the state Department of Justice building, calling on Attorney General Roy Cooper to stop defending North Carolina laws that prohibit same-sex marriage.
Led by the United Church of Christ, the group argued that the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman and other laws restrict the freedoms of religion and expressive association guaranteed in the First Amendment.
"For me, equality has always been extremely important from the time I was child, and I believe love is love and everyone should have the right to marry," said Carol Williams-Swoope of Trinity United Church of Christ in Concord. "But more importantly, this about First Amendment rights of our pastors."
Any clergy member who marries a couple that doesn't have a North Carolina marriage license, such as a same-sex couple, faces a misdemeanor, which Rev. Nathan King, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, called "a little bit anxiety-producing."
"It certainly makes it difficult when a couple comes to me and wants to be married in our church with their own faith community," King said.
Security guards at the Department of Justice refused to allow the clergy to take the petitions to the Attorney General's Office, forcing them to be dropped off at the front desk.
While Cooper said he supports the petitioners' position, he said it's his job to represent the state in court and defend North Carolina laws.
“North Carolina should change its laws to allow marriage equality, and I believe basic fairness eventually will prevail," he said in a statement. "However, when legal arguments exist to defend a law, it is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General under North Carolina law to make those arguments in court.”
The United Church of Christ and other religious groups have filed suit to overturn the gay marriage ban in the state. Six same-sex couples likewise have sued the state over the ban.