Washington Twp. pastor fights law that fines clergy for gay marriage

A Baptist organization led by a local pastor has joined a lawsuit aimed at overturning North Carolina’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the grounds that the ban violates religious freedoms.

“(The law) doesn’t just deal with marriage equality; it goes to the heart of religious liberty,” said Mike Castle, president of the Alliance of Baptists and pastor of Harmony Creek Church in Washington Twp.

North Carolina’s ban makes it a misdemeanor for ministers to perform marriage ceremonies for couples that do not have state marriage licenses. Ministers who perform marriages also can be sued by anyone for performing the marriages.

The Alliance is expected to file papers today joining in a federal lawsuit The United Church of Christ and other religious groups filed against North Carolina on April 28.

UCC, a denomination of nearly one million members nationwide, claims the ban violates the First Amendment by restricting religious freedoms.

According to the New York Times, Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, a group against same-sex marriage, said the law was filed by those wanting to impose same-sex marriage on North Carolina.

“It’s 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,” Fitzgerald said in a statement, as reported by the newspaper.

Harmony Creek Church is a UCC congregation. It and First Baptist Church of Dayton are among five Ohio churches in the Alliance of Baptists.

Founded in 1987, the Alliance has 130 congregations. Like UCC, the Alliance supports gay marriage.

Castle, who is gay and performs both same-sex and heterosexual marriages, said the law applies to religious ceremonies for both same-sex and male and female couples.

He said the North Carolina law does exactly what opponents of gay marriage fear most — take away the right to exercise religious freedom to marry.

Also, ministers often perform blessings or commitment ceremonies for heterosexual couples who choose not to marry for reasons including their children or retirement, he said.

“Even that would fall under the status of being in violation of North Carolina law,” Castle said. “We want to be treated on the same equal playing field.”

Contact this blogger at arobinson@DaytonDailyNews.com or Twitter.com/DDNSmartMouth

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