The United Church of Christ did a really huge thing yesterday.
For the first time ever, a major church is filing a federal lawsuit DEFENDING marriage equality, arguing that same-sex marriage bans violate pro-LGBT clergy’s right to express their religious beliefs.
UCC is specifically suing North Carolina, where the voter-passed Amendment One bans religious officials from marrying same-sex couples at risk of a fine or even jail time. The lawsuit, therefore, represents both same-sex couples seeking marriage rights and clergy seeking their right to religious freedom.
The effort is part of the UCC’s long history of social justice advocacy. The mainline Protestant denomination—President Barack Obama’s own church denomination in Chicago—has more than one million members and 5,100 congregations nationwide, including 150 churches in North Carolina, and the UCC general synod passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in 2005.
“For 40 years or more we have been seeking justice and equality for gay and lesbian people,” explains Geoffrey Black, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ. “This is the moment when we have an opportunity to seek justice and equality for gay and lesbian people, and so we are taking that matter very seriously.”
Can’t stress enough how much of a game-changer this is. Normally, we hear “religious liberty” tossed around as an argument against marriage equality (and it’s nearly always used incorrectly). For the first time, a major religious organization is acknowledging that it actually violates religious officials’ rights to express their support of marriage equality if they’re not allowed to perform these marriages — which, by the way, would obviously happen completely separately from the state and not attempt to offer any legal protections.
This has great potential to change how we think about church and state entanglements as they relate to the marriage equality movement. I can’t wait to see what happens.
I think it’s worth adding that the lawsuit also includes as plaintiffs a Lutheran pastor, a Rabbi, two Unitarian Universalist ministers, and a Baptist Pastor.