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Seeking marriage equality in North Carolina

Part 7:
2012: Reactions to passage of Amendment 1.
Inaccuracy in reporting by the media.

2014: United Church of Christ files lawsuit
seeking the religious freedom to perform SSMs.

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This topic is a continuation from the previous essay

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On this web site, the acronym "SSM" means same-sex marriages;
"LGBT" refers to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/transsexual community;
"marriage equality" refers to state laws and a state constitution
that allows both opposite-sex and same-sex couples to marry.

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wedding ringsTwo opposing reactions to the passage of Amendment One:

  • 2012-MAY-08: Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force issued a statement. It emphasizes the stealth nature of the amendment:

    "North Carolina has wandered into treacherous terrain with Amendment One. For all the talk of bolstering families, this measure shamefully shoves them into harm’s way.

    Blocking loving couples from forming legal unions like domestic partnerships, civil unions and marriage flies in the face of family values. Indeed, Amendment One defies what it means to be a family today. Many North Carolinians, including seniors, single women and children, could be placed in peril because the shrinking definition of family excludes them. Some might even be denied life-saving services like domestic violence protections. This is a brutal step backward for relationship recognition in North Carolina.

    We thank all the voters who ... [voted to reject] Amendment One. We stand in solidarity with them and the Coalition to Protect North Carolina Families as they build on this effort to make North Carolina welcoming and safe for all." 1

  • 2012-MAY-09: Statement by Vote FOR marriage NC. It attempts to preserve the belief that the amendment dealt only with same-sex marriage, while implying that God is on their side:

    "Today, the people of North Carolina voted to pass the Marriage Protection Amendment by over 61 percent of the vote, making North Carolina the thirty-first state to preserve marriage with a constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman.  The Amendment won with a 22% margin, slightly larger than predicted by recent polling.

    'We are thankful to God and to the people of North Carolina for joining together today to preserve marriage as the union between one man and one woman in our State Constitution,' said Tami Fitzgerald, Chairwoman of Vote FOR Marriage NC. 'North Carolinians have been waiting for nearly a decade to protect marriage -- a sacred institution authored by God -- from being redefined against the will of the people. The Marriage Protection Amendment ensures that it will always be the people of our state who determine what marriage is in North Carolina, not an activist judge or future politicians. Our heartfelt gratitude goes out to the thousands of supporters who rallied behind protecting marriage in our state. Our victory tonight could not have been possible without their tireless support.'

    Vote FOR Marriage NC is the referendum committee that worked to pass the Marriage Protection Amendment on [2012-] May 8.  The campaign is comprised of a multitude of policy organizations, denominations, and civic groups. Its Executive Committee consists of the Christian Action League, NC Values Coalition, a coalition of African American pastors, NC Baptists, and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM)." 2

    Their statement is only partly true with regard to preventing "an activist judge or future politicians" from achieving marriage equality, as the statement mentions in its second paragraph.' As long as Amendment One is not repealed, it absolutely prohibits the state Legislature or state courts from legalizing SSM. However, it does nothing to prevent a judge in the federal court system from declaring Amendment One and North Carolina's marriage statutes unconstitutional and thereby legalizing same-sex marriage in the state.

    By 2014-MAY, over 60 lawsuits had been filed in the federal District Courts in dozens of states seeking to legalize SSMs. All or essentially all are based on the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution. These clauses require state and federal governments to treat people equally. This implies that couples must also be treated equally.

The equal protection and due process clauses in the 14th Amendment formed the basis of the famous lawsuit Loving v. Virginia. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Loving during 1967 that interracial marriages were legal across the country. The aptly named Loving case was probably the case in the past that was most similar to the marriage equality cases flooding the federal court system during 2013-2014.

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2012: Subsequent reactions to Amendment One in North Carolina:

The vast majority of subsequent articles in the media seem to reflect their author's belief that the North Carolina amendment only banned same-sex marriage. One example is:

  • Mark Sherman of the Associated Press wrote: "... 31 states have amended their constitutions to prohibit same-sex marriage. North Carolina was the most recent example in [2012 -] May." 3

We were motivated to write an article about the problems of media inaccuracy on matters related to SSM.

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About two years passed (2012-MAY to 2014-APR) with no major activity.

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2014-APR-28: Unusual lawsuit filed by United Church of Christ and other plaintiffs:

On APR-26, a new lawsuit was launched in the the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, Charlotte Division. 4 Its goal is to legalize marriage by same-sex couples in North Carolina. For what we believe is the first time in a lawsuit of this type, the lead plaintiff is a Christian denomination -- the United Church of Christ. The church is joined by a number of clergy from various religions and Christian denominations. As is usual in a marriage equality case, additional plaintiffs are same-sex couples seeking to marry in the state. However, there are no plaintiff couples who have been legally married in other states and who are seeking to have their marriages recognized in North Carolina.

Ten months previously, almost to the day -- on 2013-JUN-26 -- the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Windsor v. United States. It declared Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. The main effect of this decision was to make same-sex legally married couples eligible for 1,138 federal benefits and protections. The equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th amendment of the U.S. Constitution played a major role in this ruling. Over the next ten months more than 60 lawsuits were filed by groups of same-sex couples in various federal District Courts in states around the country. All were seeking marriage equality; all or essentially all of the cases were a;sp based on the 14th Amendment guarantees of equality for all. All of the cases that have been ruled upon by a District Court to date have favored marriage equality. The complaint filed in this case -- General Synod of The United Church of Christ et al v. Cooper et al -- adds one more to this flood of lawsuits -- all headed to an eventual appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

However, this case is unusual in a number of ways:

  • The principal plaintiff is not a same-sex couple. It is -- for the first time in a marriage equality case -- a religious denomination: the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC). They describe themselves in their complaint to the District Court as:

    "... a church of extravagant welcome, proclaiming that no matter who you are and where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. The United Church of Christ believes in a Still Speaking God. ... For more than 30 years, the General Synod of the UCC has adopted resolutions affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) persons; calling for an end to discrimination and for equal protection under the law; deploring LGBT hate crimes and violence; supporting LGBT relationships and families; celebrating the gifts of LGBT persons for ministry; and encouraging all settings of the church to be open and affirming of LGBT persons, welcoming them and encouraging their participation in every aspect of the mission and ministry of the church. ... "

The United Church of Christ is often considered the most liberal of the large Christian denominations in the U.S. It has about 1.1 million members and 5,100 local churches.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Amendment One passes in North Carolina," National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 2012-MAY-08, at: http://thetaskforceblog.org/
  2. "North Carolina becomes 31st state to adopt marriage protection amendment," Vote FOR marriage NC, 2012-MAY-09, at: http://www.voteformarriagenc.com/
  3. Mark Sherman, "Gay marriage before Supreme Court? Cases weighed," Associated Press, 2012-NOV-29, at: http://www.kswt.com/
  4. Text of complaint in General Synod of The United Church of Christ et al v. Cooper et al, 2014-APR-26, at: http://uccfiles.com/pdf/complaint.pdf

Copyright © 2012 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2012-MAY-07
Latest update: 2014-MAY-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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