By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
July 9, 2015
RALEIGH – According to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), 14 of the state’s 672 magistrates have recused themselves from performing marriages, while the North Carolina Association of Register of Deeds states 5 register of deeds out of 100 counties have opted out of issuing and processing marriage licenses.
A new religious liberty law, SB 2 – Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies, which passed the North Carolina General Assembly over the Governor’s veto and took effect on June 11, makes the option possible for magistrates and register of deeds. The law declares magistrates and register of deeds that hold sincere religious objections to participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony may opt out.
Magistrates and register of deeds choosing to recuse themselves must agree to perform no civil ceremonies. Recusals are for a minimum of six months and continue until rescinded in writing. Officials choosing not to perform civil ceremonies for sincerely held religious objections will not be subject to loss of employment, disciplinary actions or prosecution.
Same-sex marriage in the Tar Heel state was legalized on October 10, 2014, when federal Judge Max O. Cogburn ruled North Carolina’s constitutional marriage amendment approved by the state’s electorate May 8, 2012, was unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court imposed gay nuptials on the entire country, June 26th of this year.
The Raleigh News and Observer (N&O) says the number of recusals represent approximately 2% of the state’s magistrates. The N&O reports that AOC spokeswoman Sharon Gladwell would not identify the counties where the recused magistrates worked. She said recusals were confidential and providing county specific information would allow for identification of the magistrates.
Opponents of SB 2 continue to decry the law. Sarah Preston of the North Carolina chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told the N&O that the low number of recusals demonstrates the legislature made this a bigger deal than it needed to be. “I think that indicates that this was really a non-issue,” she said.
Ryan Butler, a spokesperson for Equality NC, the state’s premier LGBT advocacy group, told WGHP, Fox 8 News, the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on marriage “makes it very clear that same-sex couples have to be treated equally to opposite-sex couples.” “Anything that tries to skirt around that, or tries to make it so the government doesn’t have to do that, is going to be unconstitutional,” he said.
Both the ACLU and Equality NC have vowed to search for a way to overturn the law. They contend magistrates and register of deeds are public servants and should be forced to perform same sex marriages, otherwise resign or be fired.
But Dr. Mark Creech, who zealously lobbied for the legislation, said the law is a reasonable compromise between both sides on the issue. “There is a part of this legislation that passed that makes sure these ceremonies are performed. It just allows an accommodation for those who have a religious objection to performing a same-sex marriage. That’s all,” he said.
Dr. Creech said he also believes the law will meet constitutional muster and prevail in any court challenge, adding the number of recusals was really the non-issue.
“The number of magistrates and register of deeds that have recused themselves is irrelevant,” he said. “What’s important is that people who have a sincerely held religious objection to same sex marriage will now have legal protections that should keep them from losing their jobs. People ought not to have to choose between their faith and their employment. Whenever the religious liberty of one is violated, the religious liberty of everyone is threatened,” said Creech.
Moreover, Creech opined that he believes the opponents of SB 2 have a shallow understanding of the First Amendment. “The freedom to practice one’s religion doesn’t simply mean, as they seem to think, that one can believe whatever religious tenants he wishes in the solitude of his own home or in the privacy of his religious organization’s established place of worship,” said Creech. “But it means one can practice freely the teachings of their faith in public, in the public square, without the authorization or endorsement of the state, or fear of its reprisal.”
The AOC has a resource page for magistrates wishing to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies because of a sincerely held religious objection. The resource page also provides a guidance memo on SB 2, the new religious liberty law.