United Church of Christ

The Freedom To Say “I Do”

by Rev . Harold E. Thompson Jr.

I was delighted when I heard the news that the United Church of Christ (UCC) had brought a landmark lawsuit against the State of North Carolina to hopefully overturn Amendment One. According to multiple media sources, the UCC filed a lawsuit to challenge state marriage laws that restrict a pastor’s freedom to exercise their religious convictions.

In this case, to marry, or even bless, same gender couples.

According to Time Magazine, “State laws prevent ministers from performing weddings if the couple does not already have a marriage license, and so religious wedding ceremonies are at odds with the law even if ministers are not sanctioning civil marriages.”

The lawsuit also seeks an injunction which would give ministers the ability to perform a religious marriage. Religious marriages have several names, but most know them as a Blessing of the Union or a Commitment Ceremony. Current legislation in North Carolina makes even these services a crime, punishable by a fine and up to 120 days in jail.

As the public debate escalates, it is important to understand why the United Church of Christ’s stance is so important.

First, it is historic and long overdue. The United States Constitution and Bill of Rights guarantees each of us, even the good citizens of North Carolina, that no laws shall prohibit the free exercise of religion. Laws like Amendment One violate the United Church of Christ’s freedom to worship and exercise our religious beliefs.

Secondly, Amendment One is legislated discrimination. Almost two years ago, North Carolinians voted 61%-38% in favor of a state constitutional amendment defining marriage solely as a union between a man and a woman. At the time, I was pastor of a UCC congregation in rural North Carolina. I was there when Amendment passed. I remember clearly the loud, zealous, and histrionic debates.

The loudest voices promoted an agenda of bigotry and fear, using the misguided logic that the state needed to protect the sacred institution of marriage—as if the covenant of marriage needed protection. It was, and remains, a deeply flawed argument. Such rhetoric places a veneer of civility on an issue driven by intolerance and prejudice.

In 2012, fear and panic won, and North Carolinians have suffered ever since.

After the votes were counted, I was stunned and saddened that so many people chose oppression and discrimination, over acceptance and equality. Last week, the UCC stood up and took a courageous stance to oppose legislated discrimination in North Carolina. No doubt the UCC will be condemned by many. I pray that others will stand with us, but in the end, we may stand alone. Being first often requires courage and great sacrifice.

Challenging discrimination and fighting to aid the oppressed in North Carolina is not new to the United Church of Christ. In 1999, the UCC boycotted Mt. Olive Pickle Company to fight for workers’ rights for cucumber pickers. It took several years, but the UCC prevailed.

Before that, in Wilmington, NC in 1971, at the height of racial tensions, the Wilmington Ten sought refuge in the basement of Gregory Congregational Church. The Wilmington Ten found shelter, but not safety. The sanctuary still has bullet holes from that night long ago, ever-present reminders that even God’s house is not sacred to those who hate.

Today, a new group of oppressed people are championed by the UCC.

The LGBTQA community is not the first group of marginalized people the UCC has helped, and they will not be the last. Thankfully, I worship and work in a denomination where discrimination and bigotry are challenged.

I pray for the day when all people of faith stand together to challenge oppression. Until then, pastors must speak out. We should not be quiet, because silence is acceptance.

Silence is permission, and inequality should not be accepted. Laws like Amendment One should be removed to allow all people the same rights, freedoms, and liberties—even pastors who desire to bless those who look to God for affirmation of their sacred covenant of marriage.

Photo by Dustin Cantrell via Fort Washington Collegiate Church

Comments (1)


I find it sad that many U. S.
I find it sad that many U. S. states still appear to endorse this kind of bigotry and intolerance, while at the same time touting America as the greatest country in the world! Such people need to SERIOUSLY re-evaluate their views!

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