The United Church of Christ (UCC) and a dozen clergy members on Monday filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's ban on gay marriage.

The plaintiffs, which also include several gay and lesbian couples who wish to marry, argue that the state's constitutional amendment limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is the first of the nearly 6 dozen marriage equality cases filed nationwide to bring First Amendment religious freedom claims.

“The North Carolina Marriage Laws, which make it a criminal offense for any 'minister, officer, or any other person' to solemnize the marriage of a same-sex couple, impermissibly intrude on Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights by imposing significant burdens on their rights of expression association,” the complaint reads.

The UCC, which has more than 1 million members, is one of a handful of denominations that bless the marriages of gay couples.

“As senior minister, I am often asked to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples in my congregation,” Rev. Joe Hoffman, senior minister of First Congregation United Church of Christ in Asheville and a plaintiff in the case, said in a statement. “My denomination – the United Church of Christ – authorizes me to perform these ceremonies. But Amendment One denies my religious freedom by prohibiting me from exercising this right.”

Jake Sussman, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, added: “In addition to bringing 14th Amendment claims under equal protection and due process, this lawsuit introduces a 1st Amendment claim that the marriage ban in North Carolina violates the right to the free exercise of religious beliefs by denominations, clergy, and congregants who believe that same-sex marriages are theologically valid and want to perform marriage ceremonies.”

(Read the complaint, provided by Equality Case Files.)