Written by Anthony Moujaes
The plaintiffs in the landmark lawsuit General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper have waited 14 days for a response from North Carolina to the claim that the state's marriage laws violate their constitutional rights and wrongly criminalize clergy. On Thursday, May 15, the defendants in the case filed motions for a 30-day extension to respond to the lawsuit today in U.S. District Court in Charlotte.
In asking for the extension, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, on behalf of himself and all Defendant District Attorneys, characterized the plaintiffs' claims as "complex issues of first impression" and arguments that "implicate significant public interest."
"North Carolina's marriage laws are unconstitutional, and we agree with Attorney General Cooper that these laws have significant impact on the general public, " said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a national officer of the UCC. "The State's marriage laws criminalize clergy for performing their pastoral duties, and we believe that they should not be taken lightly."
On April 28, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ filed the lawsuit, arguing that North Carolina's marriage laws, including Amendment One, violate the principle of "free exercise of religion" upon which the church is built, and restrict the freedoms of religion and expressive association guaranteed in the First Amendment. The UCC is one of three groups of plaintiffs in the case — a dozen North Carolina clergy from Christian, Jewish and Unitarian faiths, and LGBT couples wishing to marry are also part of the lawsuit.
The preliminary injunction, filed the same day as the lawsuit, asked the court to temporarily rule the state cannot enforce its marriage laws and would have given clergy the authority to solemnize marriages.
The lawsuit names 11 defendants, which include Cooper, and several register of deeds and district attorneys in the state. The defendants had 15 days from the date of filing to file their objection to the preliminary injunction. Cooper has already asked for a stay in another North Carolina lawsuit that challenges the marriage laws on equal protection and due process grounds.
For more information, visit ucc.org/ido.