Alliance of Baptists supports NC gay marriage lawsuit

At its annual meeting, the group expressed solidarity with religious leaders who are challenging North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage.

By Robert Dilday

The Alliance of Baptists has expressed support for a legal challenge launched by religious leaders in North Carolina to overturn the state’s ban on gay marriage.

At its annual meeting May 3 in Portland, Maine, the Alliance voted to “stand in solidarity” with a suit filed in a federal district court in Charlotte April 28 by the United Church of Christ. The UCC claims that North Carolina is unconstitutionally restricting religious freedom by barring clergy members from marrying gay couples.

In a resolution, the Alliance, which has affirmed same-sex marriage since 2004, said “we rise today to stand in solidarity with the United Church of Christ in its decision to file a lawsuit ….”

The resolution also expressed thanks for the “courageous witness” of two Alliance members in North Carolina who joined the suit as plaintiffs — Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, and Cathy McGaughey of Asheville, who has served on the Alliance staff.

Mike CastleSince 2003, the Alliance has maintained a “partnership in mission and ministry” with the UCC, a denomination which claims about one million members nationally and has supported same-sex marriage for almost 10 years.

The lawsuit, which seeks to overturn a constitutional amendment overwhelmingly adopted in 2012, is the first brought by a national religious denomination challenging a state’s marriage laws. The plaintiffs argue that, because North Carolina makes it a criminal offense for a minister to perform a marriage ceremony for any couple who does not have a marriage license, and because the amendment prohibits issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, their First Amendment religious freedom protections are violated.

The New York Times reported that the case is one of nearly 70 across the country challenging bans on gay marriage, but may be the first based on religious freedom.

“The Alliance of Baptists has always had a strong commitment to religious liberty,” newly elected Alliance president Michael Castle said May 16. “And in my opinion, religious liberty is at the heart of the marriage equality debate. A religious majority is passing and/or sustaining marriage laws that suit their religious beliefs, thus infringing on the free and equal access to marriage in the public square for those in the religious minority on this issue.”

Castle, senior pastor of Harmony Creek Church, a UCC congregation in Dayton, Ohio, said he respects those who oppose gay marriage and the right of religious communities to decline to marry gay couples.

“I am just asking for and seeking the same respect, freedom and equality,” he said. “The Alliance of Baptists is glad to support and stand with the United Church of Christ in bringing attention to this unjust legislation and violation of our cherished American principle of religious freedom.”