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Religious Tolerance logo

Seeking marriage equality in North Carolina

Part 9:
2014: United Church of Christ's lawsuit
seeking marriage equality (Concluded).

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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 rings2014-APR-26: Content of the Complaint's introduction:

The introduction section in the complaint filed with the District Court states, in part:

  • "... ministers and others who are authorized to conduct marriages in North Carolina are expressly precluded by State law from performing any ceremony of marriage between same-sex couples, even if their faith and religious beliefs allow them to conduct ceremonies and recognize those marriages."

  • "North Carolina statutory law limits the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman."

  • "North Carolina statutory law explicitly provides that marriages by persons of the same gender are not valid." This would include marriages legally solemnized in other states.

  • The law provides that: "Marriages, whether created by common law, contracted, or performed outside of North Carolina, between individuals of the same gender are not valid in North Carolina. This prohibition also has been made part of the North Carolina constitution through Amendment One..."

  • If a minister conducts any marriage ceremony between same sex couples, he or she is guilty of a crime.

  • The North Carolina Marriage Laws categorically and unconditionally prohibit same-sex couples from enjoying the benefits of marriage, and preclude the free and uninhibited exercise of Plaintiffs’ religious beliefs.

  • Under the North Carolina Marriage Laws, the Denomination, Minister, and Couple Plaintiffs are precluded even from conducting a marriage ceremony of any kind between two same-sex individuals. This represents an unlawful government intervention into the internal structure and practices of Plaintiffs’ religions.
  • By depriving the Plaintiffs of the freedom to perform religious marriage ceremonies or to marry, North Carolina stigmatizes Plaintiffs and their religious beliefs, and the State relegates the Couple Plaintiffs to second-class status. The laws forbidding same-sex marriage tell Plaintiffs that their religious views are invalid and same-sex relationships are less worthy, thus humiliating each Plaintiff and denigrating the integrity and closeness of families and religious organizations, depriving Plaintiffs of the inclusive religious community of family units they wish to establish.

  • Furthermore, the North Carolina Marriage Laws, by preventing Plaintiffs from fully expressing their embrace and support of same-sex marriage on an equal basis with opposite-sex marriage, force Plaintiffs to either abstain from the recognition of marriage entirely, or else convey, against their will, the impression that opposite-sex marriages are more valued in the eyes of their respective faiths.

  • Defendants, in executing and enforcing the Marriage Laws, are acting under color of state law and thus depriving Plaintiffs of rights secured by the United States Constitution..." 1

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2014-APR-26: Content of the Complaint's Claims section:

The claims section discusses how the state marriage laws and Amendment One to the North Carolina Constitution violate sections of the federal Constitution. As in the other over 60 currently active lawsuits over marriage equality, this case claims that denying marriage to same sex couples violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

  • Violation of the due process clause of the 14th amendment: This clause prohibits any state from "depriv[ing] any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. ... Marriage is a fundamental right, and choices about marriage, like choices about other aspects of family, are a central part of the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause. ... North Carolina law denies the Couple Plaintiffs and other same-sex couples this fundamental right by denying them access to the state-recognized institution of marriage."

  • Violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment: North Carolina"s statutes and constitution restrict civil marriage to opposite-sex couples. "Thus, North Carolina law treats similarly-situated people differently by providing civil marriage to opposite-sex couples, but not to same-sex couples, which are expressly precluded from enjoying the panoply of rights associated with marriage. Gay men and lesbians are, therefore, unequal in the eyes of state law, and their families are denied the same respect as officially sanctioned families of opposite-sex individuals."

What makes this case special or perhaps even unique is the claim that denying marriage equality for loving, committed same-sex couples also violates the free exercise and free association religious clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:

  • Violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment: The marriage laws make it a criminal offense for any "minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage ...[in the state] "to solemnize the marriage of a same-sex couple." This violates the clergy plaintiffs' right to perform a church ritual. It also violates the couple plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment to have "full access to the marriage rites of their faith."

  • Violation of the right of free association with other believers guaranteed by the First Amendment: "The practice of conducting and participating in religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples is a constitutionally protected activity of expressive association. ... the religious teachings and activities of the Plaintiffs reflect the belief that same-sex couples wishing to be married should be afforded rights equal to, and be treated with the same dignity as, opposite-sex couples."

Under the topic: "Irreparable Injury", the complaint states:

"Plaintiffs are severely and irreparably injured by the challenged state laws and constitutional provision that violate the First Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment [of the federal Constitution]. By way of example only, Plaintiffs' injuries as a result of these discriminatory laws include:

  • The impairment of the free exercise of religion for all Plaintiffs;

  • The deprivation of rights guaranteed the Couple Plaintiffs by the Fourteenth Amendment; and

  • The severe humiliation, emotional distress, pain, suffering, psychological harm, and stigma caused by the inability of the Couple Plaintiffs to marry and have society accord their unions and their families the same respect and dignity enjoyed by opposite-sex unions and families.

Because the Couple Plaintiffs cannot marry under North Carolina law, they cannot currently receive social security benefits or favorable treatment on income and estate taxes prescribed by State law. They also cannot currently claim benefits under various federal laws that apply only to married couples. Plaintiffs' injuries will be redressed only if this Court declares these provisions unconstitutional and enjoins Defendants from enforcing them.

An actual and judicially cognizable controversy exists between Plaintiffs and Defendants regarding whether the laws violate the First Amendment and the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Defendants are presently enforcing these State laws to the detriment of Plaintiffs." 1

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Text of complaint in General Synod of The United Church of Christ et al v. Cooper et al, 2014-APR-26, at:

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

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