Lawsuit seeks to overturn NC same-sex marriage ban

Posted April 28
Updated April 29

— A coalition of clergy members filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging North Carolina's constitutional ban on gay marriage, saying it violated 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."

"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 and register of deeds.

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

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of NC Values Coalition, which helped secure the constitutional amendment two years ago, said North Carolina residents overwhlemingly approved the ban on same-sex marriage, and federal judges shouldn't ignore the will of the people.

"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," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity."

Laura Riddick, Wake County’s register of deeds, said her office was wrongly targeted by the plaintiffs. 

“It’s ridiculous for any registry to be sued over same-gender marriage, which is a matter of state law, not county policy,” she said.

“Only the legislature or the courts can change the law. Our job as county administrators is to apply the law as it is – just as we will apply the law if it changes. Suing us misleads the public, wastes county taxpayer dollars, and creates unnecessary conflict. I don’t see how that is in any respect holy.”

This isn't the first legal challenge to North Carolina's amendment.

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.

Jake Sussman, an attorney for the coalition of clergy members, said their lawsuit opens a new front in marriage equality litigation.

"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.


This story is closed for comments. Comments on news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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  • frogger May 8, 9:20 a.m.

    "North Carolina residents overwhelmingly approved"
    I still believe in part that it passed because it was worded so oddly. Many people didn't know if a yes vote was for or against it. I had to explain to several reasonably intelligent people what it all meant.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 30, 3:46 p.m.

    "All men are created equal"

    Just like everywhere else, it will be overturned. It may happen piece... View More

    — Posted by rduwxboy

    Not if the people that voted to have it banned STAND UP FOR OUR VOTING RIGHTS and fight it. The... View More

    — Posted by Xscout577

    Again...the majority voted IN slavery, segregation by skin color, restricting women from owning land or voting, inter-racial marriage, etc. Should those laws stand?

    Do you understand that The Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights, protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority?

    Because, that's what going on here...the majority is abusing the minority. Again. And, like all these other cases of inequity, this Amendment will be over-ruled and some folks will have to mentally "catch up" with the rest of us.

  • foolmeonce Apr 30, 10:14 a.m.

    Anyone who tries to use Scripture to justify homosexual behavior is seriously disturbed. It is such perverted reasoning that it boggles the mind.

  • fifefan4life Apr 30, 9:37 a.m.

    Law or no law, God says it's wrong so it's wrong. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

    — Posted by fifefan4life

    "Love the sinner, hate the sin" doesn't always apply. It doesn't apply here, and it reveals a... View More

    — Posted by jackaroe123

    Please, you cannot compare autism to homosexuality. I do have compassion for those living in a homosexual relationship, I have been there. In my younger days I was involved in a lesbian relationship, and I loved her. But my soul was burning with conviction and I had to end it. I know that a loving Father who creates all life would not create someone to be something he hates. It is not who you are, it's what you do. Pray about it. He can change you and give you peace if you will ask Him into your heart. The Bible says in the latter days evil will be made to look Holy, and Holy will be made to look evil.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 29, 3:37 p.m.

    @DENNIS8 told @678DEVILISH, “ law should be made to force me to follow what your religion states.”

    @Dennis, great point. But, we must realize that some folks don’t follow The Golden Rule. In fact, what’s the opposite of “do unto others as you would have done unto you”?

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 29, 3:35 p.m.

    If you claim to be any sort of "less government", “pro-liberty” or “pro-freedom” Amercian citizen, then please explain why you would support creating a new law, actually an Amendment, that restricts who people can love and marry.

    Can you think of anything that would be Bigger Government than telling two taxpaying, consenting adults that they cannot love & marry each you get to do? Driving on the beach? Smoking in a restaurant? ;-)

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Apr 29, 3:08 p.m.

    Why do some gay people have to try sometimes to be so noticed? It's like "hey I know you don't... View More

    — Posted by gopack10

    If you were fighting the majority for equal rights, how would you do it?

    I mean, you DO realize that people like you are enjoying rights that you are refusing to give to other taxpaying, consenting adults, right? So, surely you can't expect these folks to just give up...because you've studied history and know how it turned out when people did (and sometimes continue to do) the same to African Americans and women? ...right?

  • dwntwnboy2 Apr 29, 2:00 p.m.

    "Where is this a civil right? I have read of NO such thing in the Constitution?"- SCOTUS has said as much over and over.

  • Wheelman Apr 29, 11:45 a.m.

    My old church use to be part of the United Church of Christ. The church split from them after... View More

    — Posted by AngryBird

    Divorce is also considered a sin except in certain situations. Does your church marry those who have been divorced? If so, why is it any more wrong for them to perform SSM?

    The real issue here is that people really don't like homosexual or lesbian acts because they are repulsed by them. As a result they want to punish those that commit them by subjecting them to a variety of ways to ostracize them and limit their rights. If all it really was about was sin, we wouldn't even be having this discussion.

  • krimson Apr 29, 11:20 a.m.

    Also, you can't say "religion aside", that how the bill was written, with a religious basis, it... View More

    — Posted by cjwatson3630

    To get religious people to vote? Did you vote with the amendment? On the ballot it was a yes... View More

    — Posted by rynmich92

    If you are denying the civil rights to citizens of this country, then yes, it is.

    — Posted by Bill Brasky

    Where is this a civil right? I have read of NO such thing in the Constitution?

    — Posted by rynmich92

    The USCon doesn't list our Rights. It assumes we already have them, then limits how gov't may restrict those rights. That said:

    1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. [1st]
    2. The enumeration in the Constitution of certain right, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. [9th]
    3. ...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [14th]