Federal Court Hears Case about Bill that Provides Religious Accommodation for Magistrates
SB 2 allows magistrates; assistant and deputy registers of deeds, to opt-out of marriage services
By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
August 12, 2016
ASHEVILLE – Arguments regarding SB 2 – Magistrates Recusal for Civil Ceremonies, commonly known as “The Magistrates Bill,” were heard in a federal court in Asheville on Monday.
The bill, which passed in 2015, establishes a procedure for state magistrates to recuse themselves from the performance of all marriages and an assistant or deputy register of deeds from issuing a marriage license, based upon a sincerely held religious objection to same-sex marriage. The recusal is allowed for up to six months and remains in effect until it’s rescinded in writing. Officials recusing themselves are not subject to prosecution for not performing these services.
Presiding over the case is U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn, the infamous federal judge who knocked down North Carolina’s Constitutional marriage amendment that defined marriage as one man and one woman in 2014.
The new law is being challenged by two same-sex couples and one interracial couple, who say that the measure is unconstitutional and treats them as second-class citizens. They argue the U.S. Supreme Court has declared gay marriage a constitutional right, and, therefore, judges and assistant or deputy registers of deeds who receive taxpayer money should have to comply, even if it means violating their deeply held religious beliefs.
Attorneys for the state have filed a motion with the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing no one is denied or delayed in getting a marriage license or the performance of a civil ceremony. Therefore, no one is harmed.
The leadership in the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) also doesn’t trust the office of the state’s Attorneys General, Roy Cooper, to provide a vigorous defense of the law. In his run for the office of Governor, A.G. Cooper, has repeatedly said that he was against SB 2 and had he been Governor the proposed bill would have been vetoed. NCGA leaders are asking the Judge to allow other representation to intervene in the case, as well as to add defendants.
Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom law firm based in Florida and led by attorney Matt Staver, is seeking to intervene. Liberty Counsel represents, among others, Magistrate Brenda Bumgarner. Bumgarner has an exemplary 10 year record of service to Alexander County and doesn’t want to give up her job because her faith forbids her to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.
In a statement released on Monday, Staver said the suit against SB 2, which “provides an accommodation to those with religious objections reveals the intolerant side of the LGBT agenda.”
“This agenda seeks to steamroll over the conscience of everyone who believes in natural marriage,” he said.
According to reports from the Associated Press (AP), after hearing the arguments of counsel, Judge Cogburn did not rule immediately.
The AP says Judge Cogburn seemed inclined not to dismiss the lawsuit “allowing magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples, but only if those suing can prove they have the right to file the legal action.” Cogburn said “no one had directly proven they had been harmed by the law.”
But he also expressed concerns, according to the AP, “that court administrators apparently allow magistrates to keep their objections secret, so gay couples who appear before them on matters wouldn’t know about those objections.”
Lastly, the AP reported, “Cogburn indicated he would reject the intervention request because he thinks the attorney general’s lawyers are doing a good job.”
UPDATE: “A federal judge won’t allow North Carolina legislative leaders and some state magistrates for now to become defendants in a lawsuit seeking to overturn a state law allowing magistrates to refuse officiate at gay marriages because of religious beliefs.” (WBTV.com AP Story:http://www.wbtv.com/story/
Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said he had briefly corresponded with Matt Staver about the case by email on Monday evening. Staver said in his email, “If the Judge denies intervention, we will appeal.”
“I believe the provision in SB 2 that allows court administrators to keep their religious objections private is in the statute because of feared reprisals by the LGBT community,” said Dr. Creech. “It’s needed and in there to protect them.”
“People from every occupation, business owners, public officials, clergy, Christian ministries and assemblies, farmers, cake bakers, photographers, owners of wedding venues, florists, entertainment and sports personalities, chief executive officers of large companies, proprietors of Bed and Breakfast services, T-Shirt makers, and even a bar owner, have been seriously harassed, and persecuted because of their opposition to ‘homosexual marriage.’” Some have even lost their livelihoods,’” Dr. Creech added.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, the Christian Action League executive director, urged citizen Christians to “pray earnestly” about the case.
Dr. Creech implored followers of his posts: “The epistle of James says that Elijah, the prophet, prayed that it might not rain on the people for their sin – the point being to teach them a lesson of their need for God. As a result, it did not rain again for 3 ½ years. When the lesson had been learned, Elijah prayed again and this time for rain. It fell in torrents. If prayer can be so effective in controlling the weather, we shouldn’t be hesitant to pray that God would preserve religious liberty for his people – for these magistrates, assistants and deputy registers of deeds, who simply want to live out their faith in peace while continuing to serve the public.”
To date, thirty-one magistrates from across the state have invoked the law.