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High Country UCC Supports Lawsuit Against NC’s Marriage Inequality

For Immediate Release 4/30/2014
Contact: Rev. Nancy Sehested

Local Congregation Supports Lawsuit Against NC’s Marriage Inequality

At least one congregation in the High Country enthusiastically supports a recent lawsuit filed by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) against the State of North Carolina.

In what is believed to be the first-ever challenge by a national Christian denomination of a state’s marriage laws, the UCC filed the lawsuit April 28 in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, N.C. The lawsuit argues that the state’s marriage laws violate the First Amendment rights of clergy and the principle of “free exercise of religion.”

High Country United Church of Christ in Vilas, NC, founded in 2002 as a progressive and inclusive Christian faith community, openly supports the rights of LGBT persons, including full marriage equality. The church publicly opposed the passage of Amendment One, and the church’s pastors have conducted numerous holy union ceremonies and blessings for LGBT couples in the area.

“We are proud of our denomination for supporting the rights of same-gender loving couples, and also for protecting our First Amendment right for the ‘free exercise of religion,'” said Nancy Sehested, High Country UCC’s interim pastor. “We realize that our church may be a minority voice in the region, but we do strive to be consistent in our actions with the compassionate teachings of Jesus. At HCUCC, we believe we act faithfully when we regard all humans as equal in worth and dignity, and when we seek the just treatment of all.”

Under Amendment One, which passed in late 2012, it is a crime in the State of North Carolina for clergy to officiate a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a valid marriage license. United Church of Christ ministers, interested in conducting a religious marriage ceremony for same-gender couples, could face up to 120 days of jail and/or probation and community service if found guilty, since North Carolina marriage laws define and regulate marriage as being between only a man and a woman. As lead plaintiff in this lawsuit against the State, the United Church of Christ asserts that these laws are unconstitutional and violate clergy’s First Amendment rights.

“The United Church of Christ is proud to defend the religious freedoms upon which this nation was founded,” said the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black, general minister and president of the UCC. “It is unfortunate that, even today, laws are designed to treat gay and lesbian people unequally. In its efforts to restrict gay marriage, the State of North Carolina has restricted one of the essential freedoms of our ministers and of all Americans.”

North Carolina’s state marriage laws are the only laws in the country that not only limit a domestic legal union to a covenant between a man and woman, but also make it a Class 1 misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn’t obtained a license. The UCC believes that this prohibition and penalties also apply to clergy performing a religious ceremony not intended to result in a legal marriage, infringing on their freedom of religion.

In contrast, the United Church of Christ, a 50-year-old denomination based in Cleveland, Ohio, has been on record officially supporting marriage equality for nine years. On July 4, 2005 the UCC’s General Synod adopted a resolution for marriage equality, “In Support of Equal Marriage Rights for All”. The UCC was the first mainline Christian denomination to come out in support of marriage equality regardless of gender.

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