General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper is a federal legal challenge to Amendment One filed in the Western District of North Carolina on behalf of clergy from across faith traditions, same-sex couples and the United Church of Christ as a national denomination.
The case challenges the constitutionality of marriage laws in North Carolina – including Amendment One – that ban marriage between same-sex couples and make it illegal for clergy to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples within their congregations.
In early June the Attorney General’s office responded to the lawsuit, defending North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage despite rulings from federal courts that such bans are unconstitutional.
“The State fails to acknowledge the harm suffered by the plaintiff couples — a harm recognized by every court that has considered the issue since Windsor. We are sorely disappointed that the State of North Carolina continues to deny equal rights to all of its citizens. Fifteen federal courts in recent months have made clear – emphatically and unequivocally – that it is unconstitutional for state governments to discriminate against loving and committed couples who want the benefits and security that marriage provides,” said Jacob Sussman, an attorney at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and lead counsel in the case.
Religious denominations and clergy from across traditions are plaintiffs in General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper. Plaintiffs include the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis in addition to Episcopalian, Jewish and Baptist clergy from across North Carolina.
Clergy plaintiffs seek the religious freedom to perform these ceremonies and same-sex couples seek the freedom to marry. The plaintiffs are represented by the law firms of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and Arnold & Porter LLP. The Campaign for Southern Equality is coordinating a public education campaign accompanying the case.
Growing numbers of faith traditions, including those represented among the plaintiffs, bless the marriages of same-sex couples. “As senior minister, I am often asked to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation. My denomination – the United Church of Christ – authorizes me to perform these ceremonies. But Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right,” says Rev. Joe Hoffman, Senior Minister of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Asheville and a plaintiff in the case.
This case opens a new front in marriage equality litigation: it is the only case to bring 1st Amendment religious freedom claims among the more than 70 marriage equality cases pending in courts nationally.
“In addition to bringing 14th Amendment claims under equal protection and due process, this lawsuit introduces a 1st Amendment claim that the marriage ban in North Carolina violates the right to the free exercise of religious beliefs by denominations, clergy, and congregants who believe that same-sex marriages are theologically valid and want to perform marriage ceremonies,” says Jake Sussman a partner at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and lead counsel in General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper.
A full list of plaintiffs in General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper include the following parties:
- The General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC);
- Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR);
- Alliance of Baptists;
- Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists (AWAB);
- Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison, Ph.D, Holy Covenant United Church of Christ (Charlotte); Lisa Cloninger and Kathleen Smith, a couple of 12 years, who attend Holy Covenant UC;
- Rev. Amy Jacks Dean and Rev. Russ Dean, Park Road Baptist (Charlotte);
- Rev. Todd Donatelli, Rev. Milly Morrow, Rev. Thomas Murphy, All Souls Episcopal Cathedral (Asheville);
- Rabbi Ari Edery, Temple Beth Shalom (Cary);
- Rabbi Jonathan Freirich; Joel Blady and Jeff Addy, a couple who seeks to marry;
- Rev. Joe Hoffman, First Congregational United Church of Christ (Asheville); Diane Ansley and Cathy McGaughey, a couple of 14 years who attend FCUCC;
- Rev. Nathan King, Trinity United Church of Christ (Concord); Shauna Bragan and Stacy Malone, who attend Trinity UCC;
- Rev. Nancy Kraft, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (Charlotte); Cathy Fry and Joanne Marinaro, a couple of 28 years, who attend Holy Trinity;
- Rabbi Ari Margolis and Rabbi Lucy Dinner, Temple Beth Or (Raleigh);
- Rev. Nancy Petty, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church (Raleigh);
- Rabbi Eric Solomon, Beth Meyer Synagogue (Raleigh);
- Rev. Robin Tanner, Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church (Charlotte); and
- Rev. Mark Ward, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville; Carol Taylor and Betty Mack, a couple of 41 years, who attend UUC of Asheville.