North Carolina Same-Sex Marriage Ban Challenged on Free Exercise Grounds

April 28th, 2014

The United Church of Christ has filed suit against North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, alleging that it constitutes an infringement on the Free Exercise clause. The New York Times has the story.

Here is the key paragraph from the complaint. They assert that the laws violate the rights of the ministers to officiate and solemnize same-sex marriages (105) and the right of the couples to become married in the tradition of their faiths (106).

104. The North Carolina Marriage Laws make it a criminal offense for any “minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of [North Carolina],” to solemnize the marriage of a same-sex couple. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 51-7.

105. Plaintiffs are (1) a religious denomination, (2) ministers, and (3) congregants whose religious teaching and beliefs embrace same-sex marriage and allow such couples full access to the marriage rites of that faith, solemnizing and celebrating their marriage.

106. Under North Carolina law, the Clergy Plaintiffs are prohibited under threat of criminal prosecution from performing any such religious ceremonies, and the Couple Plaintiffs are prohibited from becoming married in the tradition of their respective faiths. Such laws violate the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

107. Plaintiffs have no adequate remedy at law to redress the wrongs alleged herein, which are of a continuing nature, subject them to criminal sanctions, and cause irreparable harm by burdening the free exercise of religion without any justification, let alone a compelling one.

108. Accordingly, Plaintiffs are entitled to declaratory and injunctive relief as requested in this Complaint.

They also raise a Expressive Association claim, as well as the standard litany of due process and equal protection claims. Arnold & Porter is on the briefs.