Magistrates Allowed to Opt Out of Performing Same Sex Marriages

Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives have delayed a vote on a bill that would allow magistrates to opt out of performing same-sex marriages.

According to the Duke Chronicle, the legislation—entitled Senate Bill 2—was vetoed by North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. Monday, the State Senate voted to override McCrory’s veto of the legislation, which was sponsored by Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger. Members of the House may now attempt to do the same, although action was delayed Wednesday.

Against the will of the majority, same-sex marriages have been legal in North Carolina since October 10, 2014. However, the fight for religious freedom rages on.

When same-sex marriages were authorized last year, magistrates that refused to officiate same-sex marriages could be punished, fired, or face potential criminal charges. In objection, several magistrates resigned.

In response to those resignations, the state’s Senate and House passed Senate Bill 2 (SB 2) which would allow magistrates and other officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages because of their personal “sincerely held religious objection.” Officials must opt-out in writing. Once they’ve opted out, the officials cannot perform any marriages, gay or heterosexual for six months.

Proponents of the bill claim that they protect government employees’ rights to exercise their religion.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed under our state and federal constitutions—and one that our state’s public servants shouldn’t have to leave at the door,” Berger said in a press release June 1.

The bill would require magistrates to recuse themselves from performing all marriages for six months if they chose to opt out due to religious objections. It would also allow magistrates who resigned or were previously terminated due to their refusal to perform same-sex marriages to apply to fill vacant magistrate positions.

The legislation tasks the chief district court judge with ensuring that all individuals issued a state marriage license in the state seeking to marry before a magistrate may do so.

“It feels like another example of when religion is used as a weapon against LGBTQ+ individuals,” senior Tyler Nelson, president of Blue Devils United, wrote in an email Thursday. “This is a step backward for North Carolina, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it.”

He noted that if passed, the legislation might set a precedent for other states to pass similar bills.

Several other students expressed concern that this legislation would limit the ability of same-sex couples to marry just months after an October court ruling permitted them to do so.

The bill allows magistrates and other officials to refuse to perform marriages or issue marriage certificates by citing a “sincerely held religious objection.” Once they have asked to opt out in writing, magistrates would be barred from performing any marriage, gay or heterosexual, for six months.

Senate leader Phil Berger said the bill struck a balance between the legal ruling that allowed same-sex marriages to begin in the state last year and the rights of state employees to exercise their religion Reuters reported.

“If the federal courts say they will be performed, they will be performed,” Berger said before Monday’s vote. “But if someone takes a job, they don’t park their First Amendment rights at the door. They are entitled to exercise those rights.”

Democrats said the measure would likely delay marriages for gay couples, making the state vulnerable to lawsuits claiming unfair treatment.

“We want to be on the right side of history, not creating loopholes for unlawful discrimination,” Democratic Senator Floyd McKissick said.

Announcing his veto last week, McCrory said public officials who swore to defend the Constitution and perform their duties of office should not be exempt from upholding their oath.

Similar bills were filed in several states this year, although none has become law yet, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

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