In the courtroom, it isn't just one side citing religious freedom. There are now numerous faith groups that support marriage equality, in both the religious and civil spheres, and one has gone so far as to file a lawsuit.
That's the United Church of Christ, a denomination that bills itself as “a church of extravagant welcome,” which filed a challenge to North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage. The UCC has a long record of progressive activism, having ordained its first openly gay minister in 1972. And it argues that North Carolina's anti-equality law criminalizes churches that solemnize marriages for same-sex couples.
The lawsuit is a reminder that things are changing in organized religion. Consider that one of America's largest Christian churches, the Presbyterian Church (USA), is on the verge of joining the marriage equality column, as its local governing bodies begin voting on whether to ratify a resolution opening church marriages up to gay couples.
There are a lot more examples. On the following pages we provide a look at the UCC's activism as well as the other Christian denominations, branches of Judaism, and religious groups that endorse equal marriage rights and LGBT equality.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
The Presbyterian Church (USA), with nearly 1.8 million members, is poised to become the second-largest mainstream Protestant denomination in the nation to embrace marriage equality. At the Presbyterians’ General Assembly in June, 71 percent of delegates voted to change the language in the marriage definition in the church’s Book of Order to include same-sex couples. This must be ratified by a majority of the denomination’s local governing bodies, called presbyteries, before becoming churchwide policy. Voting by the presbyteries will begin this fall and must conclude by next June. Alex McNeill, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, which advocates for LGBT equality within the church, says he feels optimistic about the ratification vote.
In another action, which does not need presbytery ratification, General Assembly delegates voted to immediately allow ministers to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in states that recognize such unions. The church had previously let clergy perform a rite of blessing for same-sex partnerships without characterizing them as marriages. Neither vote of the General Assembly requires ministers to perform same-sex weddings or congregations to host them.
In 2011, the denomination made another major move toward LGBT equality when a majority of presbyteries ratified a General Assembly resolution to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian clergy, including those in relationships. A tip: Don’t confuse this church with the Presbyterian Church of America, a separate denomination, which considers homosexuality a sin.