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    ​The Alliance of Baptists Celebrates Marriage Equality in North Carolina

    The Alliance of Baptists Celebrates Marriage Equality in NC

    Things have been moving fast on the marriage equality front, especially in 2014. Back in May, the Board of Directors of the Alliance of Baptists took a bold and historic step by deciding to join the

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    United Church of Christ and others in suing the State of North Carolina. General Synod of the United Church of Christ et al vs. Cooper (Attorney General of North Carolina) challenged North Carolina’s Amendment One for violating the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion. Under Amendment One, which was passed by North Carolina voters 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. This particular lawsuit was the first instance of national Christian religious bodies challenging a state's marriage statutes.

    On June 5, 2014, at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, the Alliance of Baptists publicly announced that it was joining the United Church of Christ, along with a number of other plaintiffs, in their legal action against the state of North Carolina. At the press conference, the Michael D. Castle, in his first action as the newly elected president of the Alliance of the Baptists and Senior Pastor of Harmony Creek Church in Kettering, Ohio, said “we join the other plaintiffs in this lawsuit, adding our Baptist voice to those who hold with great care, wisdom and couragea commitment to love, justice, and equality, and who value our great American principle of religious freedom.”

    After the lawsuit was filed, it was put on hold by the Federal Courts in North Carolina. They were waiting to see how the Supreme Court of the United States deal with 4th District Court of Appeals ruling affirmed a pro-marriage equality case from Virginia. On Monday, October 4, 2014, that waiting game ended when the Supreme Court refused to intervene in any and all pro-marriage equality rulings coming to them from a number of federal appellate courts. The Supreme Court’s refusal to intervene paved the way for marriage equality in Virginia and in all the states of the 4th District Court of Appeals, including North Carolina.

    Late on Friday, October 10, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn, Jr. of North Carolina struck down North Carolina's marriage laws as unconstitutional, giving the United Church of Christ and its co-plaintiffs (including the Alliance of Baptists) a victory for equality for all people. Judge Cogburn said in his ruling: "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."

    For the Alliance of Baptists and our covenant commitment to “a free Church in a free state and opposition to any effort either by Church or state to use the other for its own purposes,” this legal victory is especially noteworthy. Judge Cogburn specifically acknowledged the religious liberty implications of our lawsuit, supporting our claim that all clergy will be able to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies without fear of prosecution.

    North Carolina became the 28th state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to recognize same-gender marriages in the United States. Same-gender marriages began to be legally recognized in North Carolina immediately after Judge Cogburn’s ruling.

    Castle said that he was “especially grateful to the Alliance of Baptists Board of Directors for their courage and tenacity in pursuing justice and equality by becoming a plaintiff in General Synod of the United Church of Christ et al vs. Cooper. The historic wins for marriage equality and our willingness to seek justice through the courts not only places us as a leading witness for justice, but also allows the Alliance of Baptists to offer a powerful and prophetic witness to a Christian faith where love always trumps fear, and where the welcome of Jesus always trumps hate and archaic religious dogma.