(Takepart) Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison has joyfully officiated same-sex marriages in her corner of the conservative South since 2006.
“It is just a delight to be able to help these couples celebrate their lives together and work with them to craft their vows,” said Allison, her bright voice laced with a twang.
What Allison, the senior pastor at Holy Covenant United Church of Christ in Charlotte, N.C., has been doing is considered a misdemeanor crime under state law, punishable by up to 120 days in jail. Not only are gay marriages and domestic unions illegal in the state, but it’s considered criminal for clergy to officiate religious vows between couples who have not yet obtained a valid marriage license.
This week, though, the progressive United Church of Christ fought back, filing the first federal lawsuit to say gay marriage bans are a violation of religious rights. It’s an unprecedented move—experts say it’s the first such lawsuit ever in the United States.
The church joined with plaintiffs that include Allison, other UCC ministers, and six same-sex couples to file a lawsuit Monday against North Carolina state and county officials challenging the constitutionality of the state’s anti-gay marriage laws as violating the church’s free exercise of religion. In 2012, voters approved a ballot measure to ban gay marriage, imposing a legal definition of marriage as an act that can occur only between a man and a woman, and making it part of the state’s constitution.
The UCC’s lawsuit seeks a preliminary and permanent injunction against all laws that would make it a crime to perform religious rites that sanctify the union of same-sex couples.
“Not until we entered this lawsuit was I aware that it was illegal to perform a same-gender marriage ceremony without a marriage license. That was one of the shocking things I learned,” said Allison, who noted that Charlotte, like other major North Carolina cities, is more open-minded than rural areas, and that the state voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 (though Republican Mitt Romney won it in 2012).... (continued)
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