Religious freedom meets same-sex marriage | Sex in the Suburbs

Amy Johnson - Contributed
Amy Johnson
— image credit: Contributed

Here’s the story of a lovely state (North Carolina)

Whose legislature was bringing up some church and state issues.

Some of them had righteous overtones,

And prompted scripture skirmishes.

Here’s the story, of a church named United Church of Christ,

That was busy with issues of their own.

They were diverse and progressive in their beliefs, living all together,

Their motto “that they may all be one.”

Till the one day when the state met this church —

See, the state had restricted religious freedoms on a hunch.

But this church would somehow form a lawsuit;

That’s just one way church and sex issues get tangled in a bunch.

The General Synod of the United Church of Christ recently filed a lawsuit in North Carolina, arguing that North Carolina’s marriage laws restrict United Church of Christ ministers from performing their religious duties, and are therefore unconstitutional.

Current laws in North Carolina prohibit issuing marriage licenses to same-gender couples, and make it a criminal offense to perform a religious marriage ceremony for anyone without a marriage license. Therefore, pastors in North Carolina can do jail time for agreeing to marry same-sex couples in the church. The United Church of Christ contends this criminalizes pastors who act in accordance with their faith when performing same-sex marriages.

You might be wondering what this has to do with Federal Way. So, I asked local United Church of Christ pastor, Rev. Dennis Hollinger-Lant, who has served Wayside United Church of Christ right here in Federal Way, since 1995.

“Couples could receive a marriage certificate from the church, even before our state legalized domestic partnership,” Hollinger-Lant said. He has presided over many such ceremonies in his years at Wayside. Even though prior to Referendum 74 passing, couples were not legally married in the eyes of the state and didn’t receive the all benefits of that status, clergy in Washington were not criminally penalized for performing a religious marriage ceremony. For people who wanted to be married in the eyes of the church and God, they could do so. Not so in North Carolina.

This lawsuit is one event in a long history of the United Church of Christ supporting equality in marriage. “I still have my voting ticket for the General Synod in Atlanta, Ga., where on July 4, 2005, the United Church of Christ voted to support marriage equality. That was a proud moment,” he said.

I asked what effect the North Carolina lawsuit has on him.

“To me, it just reaffirms the commitment of the United Church of Christ to be an inclusive denomination,” he said.  “And in the United Church of Christ, many churches have as part of their religious beliefs that same-sex couples can be married in the church.”

And why does it matter to those of us in Federal Way? Well, Washington is one of the states that has legally approved marriage equality, and sometimes, we can take that and our religious freedom for granted.

“This lawsuit is saying that evangelical denominations don’t get to define what freedom of religion is,” said Hollinger-Lant. “If there will be freedom of religion in our country, then it can’t be freedom of religion for some; it needs to be freedom of religion for all.”


Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer, educator and coach in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of the books  “Parenting by Strengths: A Parent’s Guide for Challenging Situations” and “Homegrown Faith and Justice.” Amy facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area and online. She specializes in working with parents and in sexuality education. Amy can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.










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