Did you know North Carolina has a law on the books that that makes it a misdemeanor for a minister to solemnize the wedding of any couple who doesn't have a valid marriage license from the state? That it is illegal in the state to even perform this ceremony of words and hymns and vows that isn't even recognized as a valid contract without the state's stamp of approval anyway?
Perhaps its origins are from some sort of attempt to prevent fraud by some reprobate phony trying to make money off the naïve who didn't realize how many hoops they had to jump through to truly make a marriage legal.
In any event, North Carolina was the last state to pass a constitutional ban on same-sex recognition in 2012, before the bans started falling apart in other states. The United Church of Christ is now suing, arguing that the amendment, combined with the state's existing statutes criminalizing unlicensed weddings, is a violation of the church's First Amendment rights. From the Associated Press:
"North Carolina's marriage laws are a direct affront to freedom of religion," said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, executive minister with the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, which is a plaintiff in the lawsuit. "We feel that it is important that any person that comes into community life of a United Church of Christ congregation be afforded equal pastoral care and equal opportunity to religious services that clergy provide."
But in North Carolina, clergy are often faced with a troubling decision — "whether to provide those services or break the law," Guess said. "That's something no clergy member should be faced with."
Along with the United Church of Christ, which has more than 1 million parishioners, a dozen clergy members and same-sex couples who want to marry were listed as plaintiffs. The defendants included North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and several county district attorneys as well as five registers of deeds.
Some of the reporting is a bit ambiguous and suggests the constitutional amendment passed in 2012 is what turned the solemnization into a crime. That's not exactly the case. There's no criminal element to the ban on same-sex marriage. It just says the state won't recognize them. The problem comes from two already existing statutes:
No minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State shall perform a ceremony of marriage between a man and woman, or shall declare them to be husband and wife, until there is delivered to that person a license for the marriage of the said persons, signed by the register of deeds of the county in which the marriage license was issued or by a lawful deputy or assistant. There must be at least two witnesses to the marriage ceremony.
Every minister, officer, or any other person authorized to solemnize a marriage under the laws of this State, who marries any couple without a license being first delivered to that person, as required by law, or after the expiration of such license, or who fails to return such license to the register of deeds within 10 days after any marriage celebrated by virtue thereof, with the certificate appended thereto duly filled up and signed, shall forfeit and pay two hundred dollars ($200.00) to any person who sues therefore, and shall also be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
It would seem like these two statutes were always a violation of a church's or minister's freedom of speech, regardless of the sexes of the participants. I could easily see the courts striking down the two statutes while leaving the ban on gay marriage recognition intact, meaning that it would no longer be a crime for a church to perform a gay marriage (or any other type of marriage); the state just wouldn't recognize it as a legal contract.