Does Free Exercise Require Marriage Re-Definiton? No.

May 2, 2014

A new twist in the battle by same-sex marriage advocates occurred in North Carolina this week. The United Church of Christ, three ministers in the United Church of Christ, a Lutheran pastor, two Universalist Unitarian ministers, and the openly lesbian pastor of a Baptist church filed suit in federal court to overturn North Carolina’s Marriage Amendment on the basis that it violates the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment. Because same-sex couples are not allowed to marry under North Carolina law, they claim their free exercise of religion is violated. “If a minister conducts any marriage ceremony between same-sex couples, he or she is guilty of a crime,” their complaint alleges.

The truth is that the United Church of Christ and these ministers are seeking to impose marriage re-definition on the State of North Carolina, contrary to the will of the voters who approved a Marriage Amendment just two years ago by a margin of 61% to 39%. While clever, the claim that marriage between one man and one woman violates free exercise of religion is absurd. This is yet another creative, yet predictable tactic in the carefully planned campaign to force same-sex marriage on the country.

There appears to be a carefully orchestrated effort between the press and same-sex marriage activists to deceive the public about what’s at stake here—religious freedom or marriage re-definition.

For example, consider this quote from Evan Wolfson,founder and president of Freedom to Marry, an organization that supports same-sex marriage.

In their zeal to pile on to denying the freedom to marry, North Carolina officials also put in place a measure that assaulted the religious freedom that they professed to support by penalizing and seeking to chill clergy that have different views. The extent to which North Carolina went to deny the freedom to marry wound up additionally discriminating on the basis of religion by restricting speech and the ability of clergy to do their jobs.

Other sources have accused the new North Carolina Marriage Amendment of prohibiting clergy from performing “religious blessing ceremonies and marriage rites for same-sex couples” under threat of prosecution and civil judgments.

These activists have cleverly turned the argument to legalize same-sex marriage on its head, using a basic right most Christians hold dear—free exercise of religion—as their mode of attack. But, how could prohibiting same-sex marriage really violate the free exercise of religion? Does this shrewd offensive on marriage have any validity?

The North Carolina Marriage Amendment which was enacted on May 8, 2012 reads in full:

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.

The Marriage Amendment simply recognizes that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that no other “domestic legal union” (whatever it is named) is legally recognized by the State. It does not intrude into the church’s authority or jurisdiction by telling the church what it must recognize as a marriage; it merely defines what the Statewill recognize as a marriage. This is not nuanced language for a marriage amendment, but language that is almost exactly like ten to twelve other state marriage amendments.

A second sentence in the Marriage Amendment makes it clear that private contracts are not covered by the Amendment. Thus, ministers are free to bless unions that are not legally recognized as marriages in North Carolina, and to even call them “marriages” and treat them as such.

The United Church of Christ’s lawsuit, however, makes its free exercise claims by bringing in a pair of statutes that date back to 1813 and 1817:

91.       If a minister conducts any marriage ceremony between same-sex couples, he or she is guilty of a crime:

North Carolina General Statute § 51-6 states: “Solemnization without license unlawful. No minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State shall perform a ceremony of marriage between a man and woman, or shall declare them to be husband and wife, until there is delivered to that person a license for the marriage of the said persons, signed by the register of deeds of the county in which the marriage license was issued or by a lawful deputy or assistant.”

North Carolina General Statute § 51-7 states: “Every minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State, who marries any couple without a license being first delivered to that person, as required by law, or after the expiration of such license, or who fails to return such license to the register of deeds within 10 days after any marriage celebrated by virtue thereof, with the certificate appended thereto duly filled up and signed, shall forfeit and pay two hundred dollars ($200.00) to any person who sues therefore, and shall also be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.”

These statutes set forth the requirement, that anyone lawfully authorized to perform a marriage that is recognized by the State, including ministers, must first have a marriage license in-hand. In other words, without a marriage license, a minister is prohibited from pronouncing, “By the authority vested in me by the State of North Carolina, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” Furthermore, solemnizing a marriage as an agent of the state without a license subjects the minister to criminal and civil penalties. There are obvious reasons for such a statute.

This has been the law in North Carolina for over 200 years, including the period when North Carolina had only a Defense of Marriage Act and a marriage statute that defined marriage as between a “male and female.” What’s more, these previous statutes apply equally to all ministers and only when they act in their role as agents of the State in solemnizing a marriage recognized by the State. They do not apply to a minister’s ecclesiastical authority in his or her church to bless any type of ceremony the church allows, including a same-sex commitment ceremony. Therefore, the Plaintiffs’ allegation that these statutes make it a crime for a minister to conduct a same-sex marriage in their churches is only partly true.

This is not a case of government interference in the free exercise of religion, although the Plaintiffs in the case are definitely asserting that it is. The State of North Carolina has not ordered ministers in the United Church of Christ or any other church to perform any certain type of marriages. On the contrary, this is a “violation of the separation of church and state” because the church is trying to force its religious practices regarding same-sex marriage on the State.

The United Church of Christ alleges in its complaint that: “For more than 30 years, the General Synod of the UCC has adopted resolutions affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) persons; calling for an end to discrimination and for equal protection under the law; deploring LGBT hate crimes and violence; supporting LGBT relationships and families; . . .” It is hard to believe that the prohibition on homosexual marriage significantly burdens religious exercise. If it does, then why did the United Church of Christ and its clergy wait so long to bring this lawsuit? They could have sued years ago, when the North Carolina statutes “criminalizing” performance of a marriage without a license were adopted. Waiting centuries to sue suggests that there was no urgency and, hence, little or no burden.

The state has a valid interest in determining who can legally marry. The religious freedom claims should have no validity, because of the case of Reynolds v. United States (1878), in which the Supreme Court held that, under the Free Exercise Clause, a religious belief/duty to have more than one wife did not trump a state law that prohibited bigamy and polygamy.And just last summer, the Supreme Court in Windsor v. United States (2013) affirmed the right of the states to determine for themselves marriage and family policy, and that is what the State of North Carolina has done. It is no different than what every other state in the country with a marriage amendment has done.

In North Carolina, we are afflicted with a new tactic from the gay rights movement every week. Three lawsuits have been filed (including this one) to force gay marriage on the State. Gay military couples filed a brief in the 4th Circuit’s Bostic v. Schaefer case alleging they can’t get federal military benefits because North Carolina doesn’t recognize their marriages. The plaintiffs in the first two lawsuits have sought immediate injunctive relief against our marriage laws, because they claim to be experiencing health difficulties that only being married will resolve. Finally, gay couples go to courthouses across the state almost weekly, as part of the “We Do” campaign asking for marriage licenses; being politely refused; then staging a sit-in or an arrest because they won’t leave. This lawsuit is truly “the gay-marriage tactic of the week,” instead of some newly discovered First Amendment right to same-sex marriage.

North Carolinians had good reason to protect marriage in their Constitution, recognizing that the union of a man and woman plays an irreplaceable role in the health of society, first of which is the protection of children. It is both ironic and sad that an entire religious denomination and its clergy who purport holding to Christian teachings on marriage would look to the courts to justify their errant beliefs. These individuals are simply revisionists that distort the teaching of Scripture to justify sexual revolution, not marital sanctity.

In 2012, when many of us across North Carolina were working fervently to pass the Marriage Amendment, the United Church of Christ made public denouncements of the Amendment, staged rallies and protests against it, organized phone banks and precinct walks to defeat it, and raised money to finance the defeat. Their clergy were at the heart of their efforts. They lost at the ballot box, and so now, they have taken the fight to the federal courts and out of the hands of the millions of voters in North Carolina who voted by 61% to put marriage protection in the State Constitution. The question is, will the courts see through this new tactic? Will they realize it is really about marriage re-definition, not religious liberty?

Tami Fitzgerald

Tami Fitzgerald, NC Values' Executive Director, has spent a lifetime serving and protecting pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religious liberty values. Whether it is through 22+ years of legal work across three states, or serving as the chairwoman of the successful NC marriage amendment, Tami has sought to protect the type of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24