NC Law Allowing Gov. Officials To Refuse To Perform Gay Marriages Wins In Fed Court

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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A North Carolina law allowing magistrates to refuse to perform LGBT marriages was upheld in a federal appeals court Wednesday.

Two lesbian couples and one interracial couple filed suit in 2016 over the the law known as SB2, or the Marriage Recusal law, alleging that their status as taxpayers in North Carolina gave them standing to sue. The lower court dismissed the couples’ lawsuit, who then filed for appeal with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The three judge panel from the 4th Circuit unanimously dismissed the couples’ lawsuit, saying that SB2 clearly had not hurt their ability to get married, as two of the couples were already married and the other couple was engaged at the time that the law was passed, according to an AP report.

“The outcome here is in no way a comment on same-sex marriage as a matter of social policy,” Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson wrote in the ruling. “The case before us is far more technical-whether plaintiffs, simply by virtue of their status as state taxpayers, have alleged a personal, particularized injury for the purposes of (federal court) standing.”

The law specifically gives magistrates the right to refuse to perform LGBT marriages if doing so would violate “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Clerks also have the right to refuse to issue marriage licenses under this law. Any magistrate who files a refusal under this law, however, cannot perform any marriages for six months afterward.

The couples challenged a part of the law that allows the state to use taxpayer dollars to pay for a magistrate from one county to travel to a different county in which all or many magistrates have refused to perform LGBT marriages. While two of the plaintiffs came from a county in which all of the magistrates recused themselves from performing LGBT marriages, only a small number of magistrates have recused statewide. The 4th Circuit ruled that the amount of funds used for such travel was negligible.


The couples also challenged a part of the law that allows for retirement benefits to be restored to any magistrates who are reappointed after they resigned when gay marriage became legal.

The interracial couple married in 1978 after winning a lawsuit against magistrates in North Carolina who recused themselves from performing their marriage because of the magistrates’ religious beliefs.

State Senate Leader Phil Berger, who sponsored the law, praised the court’s decision for championing the First Amendment.

“Once again, a federal court has rejected the idea that exercising one’s First Amendment religious freedoms somehow infringes on others’ rights,” Berger said.

The law prevented no one in the lawsuit from becoming married.

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