Open-minded clergy serving mainstream congregations are coming together and demanding that North Carolina join other states in allowing houses of worship and ministers to perform same-gender marriages so that everyone can have access to a consecrated, healthy and legally supported family.
A local law firm contacted several clergy asking if we would be interested in becoming plaintiffs in a lawsuit that not only challenged the equal protection and due process aspects of Amendment One but also the First Amendment protection of the rights of clergy and the principal of freedom of religion. Recognizing it as a unique and important lawsuit, we accepted the offer.
When the General Synod of the United Church of Christ joined us, the suit became the first filed by a national Christian denomination challenging a state's marriage laws on the grounds that they violate the First Amendment.
But many of us had united before joining the lawsuit. In 2011, the General Assembly introduced Amendment One, which made it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. State law already defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman and made it a misdemeanor offense for clergy to perform any marriage without a license.
As a result of the efforts of various groups and legislators to pass the amendment, a broad coalition of clergy who lead congregations that welcome and include the LGBTQ community formed Clergy for Equality to issue joint statements and organize events together that denounced Amendment One. We held interfaith services, vigils and meetings fighting its passage and celebrated with and advocated for LGBT and ally communities at Charlotte Pride and other events. Sadly, on May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters approved the amendment by a broad majority.
Fortunately, our work brought us together in a common cause and spirit.
As part of our long-term advocacy for marriage equality and our efforts to serve our members, in 2011, and again this May, Holy Covenant UCC joined with Temple Beth El and Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church in Charlotte in sponsoring joint, interfaith weddings in Washington, D.C., for 13 North Carolina couples determined to have a legal marriage. After the U. S. Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013, it became not only spiritually important but also financially advantageous for gay and lesbian couples to seek legal marriage. This prompted more and more of our couples to go out of state for legal weddings, often depriving the couple the opportunity to celebrate with their faith family.
Since 2006, I, Nancy, pastor of Holy Covenant United Church of Christ, have been defying Amendment One by performing same-gender marriages for couples within my congregation. Though these ceremonies have no legal standing, they carry great spiritual and covenantal significance for the marrying couples and the congregants who love and support them in their mutual commitments of fidelity. As all members are welcome to receive the sacraments of baptism and communion, so, too, should the rite of marriage be available to all adults who are able to forge a committed relationship of love and honor. Through the years I have witnessed the strength and stability of thriving same-gender relationships. These couples and families value their commitments and should be granted the same legal and cultural status marriage carries for opposite-gender couples.
My calling as a minister is to share the good news of God's great love for all. Holy Covenant welcomes all into the body of Christ, proclaiming God's love and blessing. Amendment One judges some citizens as unfit for the blessing of God. We reject that notion. The law can create a legal, established, family relationship between adults that is recognized socially and professionally. Though God is above the law, God's children are subject to the limitations of human constructs. It is time for the state of North Carolina to allow all clergy the religious freedom to follow their conscience in performing (or not performing) same-gender marriages.
Rabbi Jonathan Freirich has longed to bring same-gender marriage into the arena of freedom of religion since first contemplating doing same-gender weddings as a rabbinical student in the 1990s. It seems so intuitive that since our federal and state governments trust our discretion as clergy to officiate at weddings, they should also trust us to determine which couples are worthy of marriage in our communities. All of the mainstream movements to which Rabbi Jonathan belongs, including reform and reconstructionist Jewish communities, advocate LGBT inclusion and officiating at same-gender weddings – this perspective is not a minority view.
It is time to unite around the notion that all couples wishing to form families in the context of our mainstream faith communities should also have access to marriage as a sacred and civil way of affirming their lives and commitments.