More religious groups to join suit against same-sex marriage ban

msprice@charlotteobserver.comMay 29, 2014 

Additional plaintiffs – including two national clergy groups – are expected to join a lawsuit next week that claims North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage is a violation of religious freedom.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Alliance of Baptists are going to become part of the lawsuit, along with additional individual pastors and rabbis, said Luke Largess, co-lead counsel for the legal challenge.

The lawsuit is the nation’s first faith-based challenge to same-sex marriage bans, claiming North Carolina laws block clergy of various faiths from exercising their freedom of religion.

State law says it is a misdemeanor for ministers to perform a marriage ceremony without having a marriage license for a couple.

Largess made the announcement at a Thursday panel discussion at Charlotte’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which focused on the federal lawsuit, General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper.

The suit is a challenge to the state ban. It was filed in April in the Western District of North Carolina on behalf of the United Church of Christ. Same-sex couples in Charlotte, Asheville, Concord and Huntersville have joined the case as well.

Additional plaintiffs include clergy from other faith traditions. They say the state laws violate their equal-protection and due-process rights under the 14th Amendment.

Entire denomination joins fight

The local religious leaders, who include a rabbi, are joined by colleagues from Asheville and Raleigh along with the UCC. All support the rights of same-sex couples to marry.

The case also marks the first time an entire denomination has joined the marriage battle.

The UCC, headquartered in Cleveland, has more than 1.1 million members and 5,100 local churches. North Carolina is home to more than 24,000 members and 155 churches, including Holy Covenant in Charlotte and Trinity Reformed in Concord.

The New York City-based Central Conference of American Rabbis, founded in 1889, is the oldest and largest rabbinic organization in North America. It has 2,000 members, officials said.

The Alliance of Baptists began in 1987, according to its website, and is composed of male and female laity and clergy, people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, theological beliefs and ministry practices.

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