NC law allowing magistrates to opt out of performing marriages challenged

In this photo taken March 22, 2015, the rings of Thomas Kostura and Ijpe DeKoe sit on a table in their Memphis, Tenn. apartment. According to an Associated Press-GfK poll in April, nearly half of Americans favor laws allowing gay and lesbian couples to wed in their own states, while just over a third are opposed. The poll was conducted just before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case that will probably decide whether states can continue to bar same-sex couples from marrying. Kostura and deKoe were married in New York in 2011. (AP Photo/Karen Pulfer Focht)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WNCN) – Six people filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging Senate Bill 2, the law that allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriages for religious reasons.

State lawmakers adopted the measure in June, Senate Bill 2, that allows court officials to refuse to perform gay marriages because of their religious beliefs. Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed it, but the N.C. Senate and House overrode his veto. The magistrates can opt out of performing any marriages for six months.

Six plaintiffs in Ansley v. North Carolina, who are being represented by Charlotte-based law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, are challenging the law under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

READ: The full complaint [PDF]

“You just can’t pick and choose what parts of the law you’re going to enforce as a judge,” said Luke Largess, a partner at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen. “I mean, that is an open door to chaos.”

The law was intended to allow magistrates and county register of deeds employees to the right to object to same-sex marriage or to refuse to perform any marriages based on religious beliefs.

The law also orders the judicial system to pay retirement contributions to magistrates who quit in the wake of Amendment One being declared unconstitutional rather than marry gay and lesbian citizens.

The Rev. Jamine Beach-Ferrara of the Campaign for Southern Equality said, “Senate Bill 2 distorts the true meaning of religious freedom.”

But the Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League had a different view.

“I’m angry about it because this, in my estimation, is an effort by gay activism to run people of faith completely out of the public sector.”

Creech said the law is a good middle ground for people who have a moral conviction that same-sex marriage is wrong.

“Religious liberty is under assault today in ways that we’ve never seen before,” he said.

Chris Sgro of Equality NC said the matter wasn’t one involving religious liberties.

“This has to do with people who are employed by the state of North Carolina having to conduct civil services for same-sex couples the same as they do for opposite sex couples,” he said.


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