The United Church of Christ welcomed new allies in its quest for religious freedom, as three religious organizations joined the UCC's First Amendment lawsuit against the state of North Carolina. The Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a national officer of the church, stood with the additional plaintiffs during a news conference in Durham, N.C. on Thursday, and applauded their stance as people of faith committed to preserving equality.
The Alliance of Baptists, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists are the newest co-plaintiffs seeking to eradicate North Carolina's marriage laws.
The organizations, now part General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, claim that state laws wrongly criminalize clergy for performing same-gender marriages and unconstitutionally deny LGBT couples the freedom to marry.
"Together, as diverse people of faith, we stand united against the unconstitutionality of North Carolina's marriage laws because we know that, regardless of faith tradition, religious liberty is a constitutional right that state governments cannot be allowed to interfere with," Guess said. "We are also excited that, joining us as well, are the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the largest rabbinical group in this nation) and a growing list of interfaith clergy persons, now representing Baptist, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, and United Church of Christ traditions."
"Today we take action, not out of any sense of political correctness or any need for political grandstanding, but out of our deeply held commitment to God's love and justice as we experience it and understand it, calling the state of North Carolina to be accountable to its citizens, providing for their equal treatment under the law and protecting their liberties," said the Rev. Michael Castle, president of the Alliance of Baptists and senior pastor of Harmony Creek Church, a UCC and Alliance of Baptists congregation in Kettering, Ohio.
The Alliance of Baptists formed in 1987 in Charlotte, N.C., and has a partnership in mission and ministry with the UCC that dates back to 2003
"For almost 40 years, the United Church of Christ has advocated for the equality of LGBT people," Guess said. "But we also recognize that, as religious people, we have not been alone in our faith-based fight for the fair and equal treatment of all. The Alliance of Baptists' stand today for inclusivity and equality are values lived out every day in their bold Christian witness."
The lawsuit was filed on April 28 in U.S. District Court in Charlotte. The UCC is one of three groups of plaintiffs in the case — several North Carolina clergy from Christian, Jewish and Unitarian faiths, along with LGBT couples wishing to marry, are also part of the lawsuit.
North Carolina voters approved Amendment One in 2012, which limited a domestic legal union to a covenant between a man and woman. It is a misdemeanor for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for a couple that hasn't obtained a license, and marriage licenses are not issued to same-gender couples.
"Today, the United Church of Christ applauds the bold witness of the Alliance of Baptists in joining United Church of Christ v. Cooper as a plaintiff," Guess said. "Our concern for the protection of First Amendment guarantees is a commitment we share and one that we will witness to vigorously, until North Carolina's marriage laws are ultimately determined by federal court to be – what we already know them to be – unconstitutional."
In May, the Alliance of Baptists issued a resolution of support for the UCC case during its annual meeting. With more than 200 individual clergy and 1,000 members in North Carolina, the Alliance followed up its resolution by signing on as a co-plaintiff.
"We join the other plaintiffs in this lawsuit, adding our Baptist voice to those who hold with great care, wisdom and courage, a commitment to love, justice, and equality and who value our great American principle of religious freedom," Castle said.
For more information, visit ucc.org/ido.