Minister sues Mich. for right to marry same-sex couples

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — A Detroit minister has sued Michigan in federal court, alleging state law violates his right to religious freedom by barring him from conducting same-sex and polygamous marriages.

The Rev. Neil Patrick Carrick filed the lawsuit Monday against Gov. Rick Snyder and Attorney General Bill Schuette, saying the state's ban on such unions runs counter to the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Churches should have the right to marry who they want to marry," Carrick, 49, said Tuesday. "I've been told by others that 'we would love to marry (gays and lesbians) but we can't because we would be breaking the law.'"

Carrick added: "The state of Michigan does not have the right to tell us what to do in our church."

In his lawsuit, Carrick says the state engages in "the disparate treatment" of gays, lesbians and "plural relationships."

Carrick, a former pastor with the United Church of Christ, says he has declined requests from same-sex couples to marry them because he would have been breaking the law. Under Michigan law, it is a crime punishable by up to a $500 fine for someone who "knowingly" performs a marriage ceremony for same-sex couples.

Same-sex couples and religious-based plural families are criminalized under Michigan's marriage laws, Carrick said.

"Michigan officials create discrimination and potentially prosecution of private conduct between consenting adults without requiring law enforcement officials to show harm to society or those involved," he said.

He added that most of the arguments against same-sex marriage are biblical translations "taking modern day points of view" that are politically motivated. Michigan voters approved a ban on gay marriage in 2004.

Gina Calcagno, campaign manager for Michigan for Marriage, an advocacy group that supports same-sex marriage, said many religious leaders have been eager to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples.

"They are just waiting for the state to catch up," said Calcagno.

Last April, the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina arguing that the state's marriage law violates the First Amendment rights of clergy to "free exercise of religion." In October, a federal judge struck down the North Carolina law.

A spokesman for the Michigan Attorney General's Office declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.

On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce whether it will take up a Michigan case challenging the state's gay marriage ban.


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Associated Press contributed.