When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, it set off a chain reaction of lower court cases challenging discriminatory laws and constitutional amendments in the states. The rapid reaction has been amazing, and now same sex marriage is legal in all states. Aside from the legal and tax benefits of marriage, the service of commitment has become a challenge for the church.
The United Methodist Church forbids the marriage of same-sex couples and provides disciplinary measures for clergy who perform those services. Those who do so risk losing their credentials. Unfortunately, those punishments have been arbitrarily applied according to the stance of the bishops and accrediting committees of the local conference.
The North Carolina Chapter of the Reconciling Ministries Network for the past decade has focused on getting the North Carolina Annual Conference to recognize the rights of LGBT members and to reverse the discrimination they have suffered for decades. We have not taken a position on marriage equality even during the very divisive campaign to pass Amendment One to the North Carolina Constitution that banned same-sex marriage That law is still on the books even though it no longer can be enforced. As the result of the aforementioned court cases, that amendment has been ruled unconstitutional.
Regardless of the legal standing of the state, we believe that same-sex marriage is not a special right and does not threaten traditional marriage rites that have been observed by the church for generations. The threats to traditional marriage come from the many causes that lead to the high rate of divorce in this country and not from expanding the opportunities for marriage within the church as well as the state. Marriage equality is simply another aspect of political and legal equality for the LGBT community. Unfortunately, discrimination in employment is still legal in North Carolina and is not prohibited by any federal legislation. HB2 put that discrimination into law, and the so-called repeal did nothing to change that. The Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) has languished in Congress for almost two decades and is unlikely to be revived by the current administration.
We urge the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church to welcome all members and to allow LGBT people to receive the sacraments of baptism and communion and the rite of marriage. No other group of people is categorically excluded from these rituals.