The United Church of Christ has joined a lawsuit in North Carolina claiming its religious freedom is being infringed by a law and the state constitution, which define marriage as one between a man and a woman.
North Carolina criminalizes the act of marrying someone without a valid license — and since no license will be issued to same-gender couples, multiple-partners, or anyone else who isn’t one man and one woman, clergy who performed services for such “marriages” could theoretically be subject to criminal penalties. Since the UCC wants to perform homosexual weddings, they assert their religious exercise is being restricted:
Attorney Jake Sussman, who is representing the plaintiffs, says this is the only existing marriage equality case to make a First Amendment claim. It’s also the first case for marriage equality brought by a national religious denomination.
“Members of the faith community who affirm that kind of equality need to have the freedom to perform religious rites within their houses of worship,” said Sussman to msnbc. “Because of the way North Carolina defines marriage, it has a perverse and dangerous effect on the freedom of religion.”
It’s an interesting argument, but one that doesn’t bear even minor scrutiny. For better or worse, marriage has always been defined and regulated by the state. In other words, the UCC has always been restricted in the way it could perform marriages, even without these latest laws.
One person tried to equate this to the issue of a baker not wanting to make a cake for a homosexual wedding. In other words, if religious freedom allows a baker to decline to make such a cake, then religious freedom can similarly justify the right to have such a ceremony. However, there are some crucial differences (not the least of which is the fact the bakery lost its case).
For one, in the case of the bakery, the state compelled an individual to assist in the celebration of something to which they religiously objected. They had no choice but to act as the state required. As some have noted, this would be little different than the state requiring an Islamic grocer to stock and sell pork, despite religious objections.
In the case of the UCC, the church believes the state is preventing them from performing a religious ceremony. However, that’s not the case at all. Regardless of what the UCC does, it cannot perform valid homosexual marriages in the state of North Carolina. It can perform religious ceremonies all it wants, and it can call them whatever it wants, but they will not be legally recognized. If the UCC (or anyone else) performs a marriage — which the state defines as being between one man and one woman — without a license, then they could theoretically be subject to penalty. But anything other than one man and one woman isn’t a marriage in North Carolina, so they cannot be penalized for performing religious ceremonies that don’t involve one man and one woman — legally, they’re nothing. Thus, the state is not requiring the church to do anything, nor is it preventing the church from doing anything.
The state is only deciding what things it will or will not legally recognize — not what can or cannot be done. Since there is no religious tenet in Christianity demanding legal state recognition of any facet of faith, the UCC’s religious freedom is not impeded.
Some are calling this case unique, but it isn’t, really. Homosexual advocates figured out several years ago they could have homosexual “ceremonies” in military chapels even if they were not allowed to perform a homosexual wedding in one. All they had to do was call it a “religious event.”