A church in North Carolina will stop performing marriages until United Methodist pastors are allowed to officiate weddings for same-sex couples in the Tar Heel state.
The Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem made the announcement on its Facebook page on Friday and held a press conference on Sunday detailing its plan. The Rev. Kelly Carpenter told FoxNews.com on Monday that his 400-member congregation and its 18-member Leadership Council have long considered the move.
“Many people in our church have been very active about marriage equality in North Carolina, so we’re not new to talking about this issue,” Carpenter said. “So over the past year, this statement has developed, and not only to the state of North Carolina, but also to the United Methodist Church in regards to the injustice of not being able to conduct same-sex weddings.”
Neither the state nor the United Methodist Church sanctions same-sex marriages. With the U.S. Supreme Court set to consider two key same-sex marriage issues later this month, Carpenter said the “timing seemed to be good,” referring to the announcement. Feedback from the congregation, which includes at least 15 gay and lesbian couples, has been overwhelmingly positive, he said.
“Inside the congregation, I’ve heard nothing but support,” Carpenter said, adding that he also received some critical emails from non-active worshippers.
In a statement on its website, church officials declared that committed same-sex relationships are “no less sacred” as heterosexual unions.
“Couples making a commitment to one another need a supportive community of faith to sustain and uphold them so as to grow in faith and love," the statement read. "Weddings are the occasion for covenant making, a time to seek God’s blessing on their commitment to one another. When a couple chooses to be married in the church, they should also be conscious that they are making a declaration of their relationship as a new ministry for the congregation and the world. At Green Street Church, we claim the committed same-sex relationships as no less sacred in their ministry to us and the community."
United Methodist Church officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Monday.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the NC Values Coalition, said neither the state nor the church has the right to redefine marriage.
"Marriage has always been understood as a union of one man and one woman — both biblically and culturally — and last May over 60 percent of North Carolinians voted to keep it that way," Fitzgerald told FoxNews.com in a statement.
Nine states — including Connecticut, Iowa and Maryland — and the District of Columbia currently allow same-sex marriages. Most states have incorporated prohibitions of same-sex marriage by adopting so-called “defense of marriage” language defining marriage in state constitutions similar to language in the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — “the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” Furthermore, roughly 42 percent of the U.S. population lives in a state that provides some form of protections for gay couples, according to FreedomtoMarry.org.
North Carolina residents overwhelmingly voted last May to protect marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
"NOM was proud to work with a huge coalition of churches and faith leaders who believe marriage is the union of husband and wife to achieve victory," National Organization for Marriage spokesman Thomas Peters told FoxNews.com. "The religious freedom of faith communities is best protected when there are laws protecting marriage. What individual churches choose to do with that freedom is their responsibility."
But one poll, by Public Policy Polling, found that 55 percent of North Carolina residents support marriages or civil unions for same-sex couples, with 39 percent opposed. And according to an analysis of 2010 Census data, 18,309 same-sex couples live in the Tar Heel state, representing 4.9 same-sex couples per 1,000 households.
The U.S. Supreme Court later this month will consider California's Proposition 8 to decide whether the voters' ban on same-sex marriage unjustly prohibits gays and lesbians an equal right to marry. The court will consider whether DOMA wrongly denies married gay couples equal benefits under federal law. More than 114,000 married same-sex couples live in the United States, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute.