Religious bodies issue legal challenge to California's Proposition 8
Written by J. Bennett Guess
November 18, 2008

Three settings of the United Church of Christ have filed a legal petition before the Supreme Court of California to challenge the validity of the voter-approved Proposition 8 which ended same-gender marriage in the state.

The General Synod of the United Church of Christ, as well as the UCC's Southern California – Nevada Conference and Northern California – Nevada Conference, joined other religious bodies in filing litigation on Nov. 17 that argues that Proposition 8 amounted to a constitutional "revision" because it took away a fundamental civil right. In California, a constitutional revision, unlike an amendment, requires legislative authorization in addition to voter approval.

"California's constitutional right of equal protection is sacrosanct," the legal challenge reads in its introduction. "Not even the electorate can take it away selectively – at least not without a two-thirds vote of the legislature or a constitutional convention. This writ petition seeks to enforce that basic principle."

The executive committee of the UCC's Executive Council met by conference call on Nov. 16 to give its approval for the UCC General Synod to become a petitioner in the case, as recommended by the denomination's five-person Collegium of Officers and supported by UCC Nationwide Special Counsel Donald C. Clark.

Similarly, the boards of the UCC's two California Conferences also authorized their involvement. Other petitioners include the California Council of Churches; the Episcopal bishops of Los Angeles and California; the Progressive Jewish Alliance; the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations; and the UU Legislative Ministry in California.

While the UCC has filed amicus briefs in past court proceedings that related to civil recognition of same-gender relationships, this marks the first time that the UCC has become an actual petitioner. The religious coalition is being represented on a pro-bono basis by California attorney Eric A. Isaacson.

"The United Church of Christ is honored to join other religious bodies in this challenge to Proposition 8," said the Rev. John H. Thomas in a prepared statement. "In 2005 our church's General Synod called for the extension of marriage rights to all couples. We believe our communities are strengthened and our religious freedoms protected by providing equality in marriage, rather than by erecting barriers to marriage."

The case is likely to be taken up by the state's highest court, especially after California Attorney General Jerry Brown stated his opinion on Nov. 17 that the court should make a ruling.

"The fact that the California Supreme Court asked for the Attorney General to state his view on whether the court should decide the matter, and that the Attorney General argues that the court should hear the matter, gives good reason to believe the California Supreme Court will hear this case," said Clark, the UCC's attorney. 

 

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Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland,Ohio 44115
216-736-3801
guessb@ucc.org