The Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (AWAB) joined the General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper as a plaintiff in the pending Federal District Court lawsuit challenging North Carolina's marriage laws, including Amendment One. Among the suit's charges is that North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage restricts the rights of clergy to practice freely their beliefs and therefore violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
As it stands, North Carolina law makes it illegal for religious officials to solemnize the marriage of any couple that is not legally licensed to marry. If a clergy person performing an unlicensed wedding, they do so under the threat of criminal prosecution and civil penalty.
AWAB sees this as a clear violation of religious liberty and the separation of church and state.
Rev. Robin R. Lunn, Executive Director of AWAB said,
For more than 20 years the clergy of AWAB member congregations have been blessing same-sex unions as the free expression of their religious convictions! For the state to come forward now and criminalize our clergy is to deny AWAB and our community in North Carolina religious liberty. These laws prohibit the pursuit of our core principles with respect to being fully inclusive Baptist communities of faith, communities that extend to all people the rights and privileges of the church regardless of sexual or gender identity.
Rev. Dr. Christopher Ayers said,
At (AWAB member) Wedgewood Church, in Charlotte, I am blessed to be the pastor of wonderful people, some of whom are sexual and gender minorities, some have needed to go out of state to receive a marriage license. Others have chosen to wait until it is legal in NC. As a Baptist I also am blessed to be part of a long history that stresses freedom of religion. This lawsuit is designed to restore freedom of religion and equality of all people.
LeDayne McLeese Polaski, an ordained Baptist minister and Program Coordinator for the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America commented,"The state cannot tell me whom I can baptize. The state cannot dictate to whom I serve communion. The state cannot tell me at whose funeral I can officiate. Why does the state feel it can tell me whose wedding I can bless?"
Rev. Lunn commented,
AWAB is a movement working in Baptist traditions across the US to end discrimination based on sexual or gender identity. We know that while these laws are meant to target same-sex couples there are many opposite-sex couples that do not seek legal status for their marriages in solidarity with the gay community. Our clergy are liable for these illegal opposite-sex marriages just as much as they are the same-sex marriages they perform. We work for the day when our churches are free to bless any union they feel of clear conscience to bless without state interference or penalty.
AWAB, whose membership spans 5 Baptist denominations, has dozens of clergy who are impacted by the state laws that criminalize clergy in this manner.
It is on behalf of its 95 AWAB congregations—8 of which are in North Carolina—as well as AWAB members such as Andover Newton Theological School, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, and several counseling centers and LGBTQ ministries across the United States that AWAB joins with the Alliance of Baptists, the United Church of Christ, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the other plaintiffs to speak boldly on behalf of religious liberty in North Carolina and beyond.
Photo via flickr user Elvert Barnes