"We are thrilled by this clear victory for both religious freedom and marriage equality in the state of North Carolina"
General Synod of the United Church of Christ et al vs. Cooper challenged the state's Amendment One for violating the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion.
U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn issued his ruling late Friday, Oct. 10.
The landmark lawsuit was the first instance of a national Christian denomination challenging a state's marriage statutes.
"We are thrilled by this clear victory for both religious freedom and marriage equality in the state of North Carolina," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a UCC national officer. "In lifting North Carolina's ban on same-gender marriage, the court's directive makes it plain that the First Amendment arguments, made by the UCC and our fellow plaintiffs, were both persuasive and spot-on. Any law that threatens clergy who choose to solemnize a union of same-sex couples, and threatens them with civil or criminal penalties, is unconstitutional."
The suit, filed in April by the UCC and a coalition of clergy, same-sex couples and religious denominations, claiming that the state's marriage laws violate the First Amendment rights of clergy and the principle of "free exercise of religion."
Under Amendment One, which passed in late 2012, same-sex couples could not legally marry in North Carolina, and clergy could be charged with a crime for officiating a marriage ceremony without determining whether the couple involved has a valid marriage license.
"Of the three marriage equality cases pending in North Carolina, it is this landmark case about religious freedom and marriage equality that has finally struck down North Carolina's unconstitutional marriage laws," said UCC General Counsel Donald C. Clark.
"The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue. It is a legal issue and it is clear as a matter of what is now settled law in the Fourth Circuit that North Carolina laws prohibiting same sex marriage, refusing to recognize same sex marriages originating elsewhere, and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional," Cogburn wrote in his opinion.
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