Contact: Aaron Sarver, Communications Director, Campaign for Southern Equality, 773.960.2857 (c), firstname.lastname@example.org
Alliance of Baptists, Central Conference of American Rabbis, and clergy seek to marry same-sex couples, citing 1st Amendment freedoms
Asheville, N.C. (June 3, 2014) – National religious denominations including the Alliance of Baptists and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as local clergy from All Souls Episcopal Cathedral in Asheville, N.C. have been added as plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina’s marriage laws, General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper. Attorneys will file documents today in federal district court to formally amend the complaint.
On April 28th General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper was filed in the Western District of North Carolina on behalf of the United Church of Christ (UCC) as a national denomination, clergy from across faith traditions, and same-sex couples. The case challenges the constitutionality of marriage laws in North Carolina – including Amendment One – that ban marriage between same-sex couples and make it illegal for clergy to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples within their congregations. This case opens a new front in marriage equality litigation: it is the only case to bring 1st Amendment religious freedom claims among the more than 70 marriage equality cases pending in courts nationally.
The addition of new plaintiffs to the case reflects growing support for marriage equality across faith traditions in the United States. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and Arnold & Porter LLP.
“The Alliance of Baptists has always had a strong commitment to religious liberty. And in my opinion, religious liberty is at the heart of the marriage equality debate. A religious majority is passing and/or sustaining marriage laws that suit their religious beliefs, thus infringing on the free and equal access to marriage in the public square for those in the religious minority on this issue,” said Alliance president Michael Castle.
Castle said he respects those who oppose gay marriage and the right of religious communities to decline to marry gay couples. “I am just asking for and seeking the same respect, freedom and equality,” he said. The Alliance of Baptists has 17 congregations located in North Carolina.
“Depriving rabbis of the freedom to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies in North Carolina stigmatizes our religious beliefs and relegates many of our congregants and community members to second-class status. This precludes rabbis from participating in one of the fundamental aspects of our Jewish religious traditions with respect to a specific segment of their congregations and communities,” said Rabbi Steven Fox, Chief Executive of the CCAR. With more than 2,000 rabbis in the US, Canada and beyond, the Central Conference of American Rabbis is the largest Jewish rabbinic movement in North America and represents an estimated 1.5 million Jews worldwide.
“We do not have separate baptisms, separate Eucharists, separate ordinations, nor separate burials for people in the church based on their sexual orientation. We should not have separate marriage services either,” said, Rev. Todd Donatelli one of four clergy from All Souls Episcopal Church, located in Asheville, N.C., signing on as plaintiffs in the amended lawsuit.
“We call on the courts to rule quickly in this case because LGBT families across North Carolina are harmed every day that Amendment One remains on the books. Federal courts across the country have found similar laws to be unconstitutional. Why is the state of North Carolina using resources to defend a discriminatory law that denies loving couples the freedom to marry and that sends a message to LGBT youth that they are not equal? Amendment One is indefensible and must be struck down as quickly as possible,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, which is coordinating a public education campaign accompanying the case.
The North Carolina Attorney General’s office, representing the state in the case, has requested a motion for stay. The Attorney General’s office has asked that the case be put on hold until 4th Circuit Court of Appeal rules on Bostic v. Rainer. Magistrate Judge David Keesler has set a schedule for initial motions in General Synod of the UCC v. Cooper:
June 10th: States’ response to motion to preliminary injunction is due.
June 13th: Plaintiffs’ response to defense motion to stay is due.
June 23: States’ answer to the complaint is due (unless the court stays the case by this date).
Supporting documents and profiles of the plaintiffs can be found at http://www.amendmentonechallenge.org.
Based in the South, the Campaign for Southern Equality is a national effort to assert the full humanity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in American life and to increase public support for LGBT rights.