The immediate impact of the most recent court decisions regarding marriage is that same-gender couples who want to get married in North Carolina now can, clergy who want to perform such ceremonies may, and same-gender couples who were married in other states now have those marriages recognized here. It is important to note that nothing in any way compels clergy to perform such ceremonies if doing so violates their own beliefs or the teachings of their denomination.
That last point is important because the case out of which this decision arose is the one brought on religious liberty grounds, that clergy in denominations permitting same-gender marriage were being prohibited from engaging in ministry as their churches and their consciences directed. Several plaintiffs to the suit have Council ties, including the national bodies of the United Church of Christ and the Alliance of Baptists, Governing Board member and Asheville pastor Joe Hoffman, and Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, a Council member congregation.
The North Carolina Council of Churches was one of the first faith-based groups in our state to call for an end to discrimination based on sexual identity, way back in 1991. Because we saw the defining of marriage based on sexual identity as discrimination that had no place in constitutions, we voiced opposition to so-called marriage amendments in 2004 and worked (unsuccessfully at the time) for the defeat of Amendment One in 2012. So we are gratified to see the federal courts, interpreting our country’s most foundational document, the United States Constitution, now agreeing with us! And, while we know there are those within the Council’s member bodies who are troubled by last week’s decisions, many of us celebrate with clergy who can now perform marriages as their consciences and their denominations instruct and with committed, loving couples who can now have those unions recognized as marriage by their communities of faith.
At its core, the Council’s work is about the value of every individual as a beloved child of God. Last week’s decisions reinforce that worth.