Luanne Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Attorney General Roy Cooper has told the media that his office will defend a lawsuit filed in Guilford County late last year challenging state laws that require couples to apply for marriage licenses and have magistrates or religious officiates sign their forms.
Tami L. Fitzgerald, chairwoman of Vote FOR Marriage NC, had written a letter Dec. 29, 2011, asking Cooper to “vigorously defend the marriage laws of our State against the unprecedented and unwarranted attack” presented by the suit, which she said aims to either legalize same-sex marriage or to abolish the requirement for marriage licensing in the state.
“The laws of North Carolina have been settled since statehood that marriage constitutes the legal union of one man and one woman,” Fitzgerald wrote on behalf of the Vote FOR Marriage NC Referendum Committee, the organizations it represents and the overwhelming majority of North Carolinians who believe in the sanctity of marriage. She added that “The Courts of our State have no authority to create a new definition for marriage; that belongs exclusively to the people of the State.”
The Raleigh News and Observer’s Under the Dome column reported Jan. 1 that a spokesman for Cooper’s office confirmed that they would defend the suit, which was filed Dec. 8, 2011, by Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff L. Thigpen, the Rev. Randall J. Keeney, the Rev. Julie Peeples, the Rev. Daniel Koenig and seven other residents of Davie, Forsyth and Guilford counties. The group’s claim alleges that the ceremonial solemnization of marriage is a religious exercise and that requiring an officiate to fill out a marriage license amounts to a state establishment of religion. It also says that it is unconstitutional for the state to “make it unlawful for a pastor, priest, or rabbi to solemnize the marriage of same-sex couples.”
Oddly enough, it does call for the state to prohibit marriage for infancy, insanity, bigamy, polygamy and incest, and marriage as the result of fraud, duress, joke or mistake and wants North Carolina to adjudicate rights relating to support, child custody and property disputes when marriages end.
“This suit is so fallacious on so many levels, it is hard to even discuss its potential ramifications,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Some ministers in the case are arguing that they want to be able to solemnize marriages of people who don’t want to have their marriages registered. They can already solemnize any union they wish. Further, homosexuals in the case say they want non-religious ceremonies but want to register their marriages with the state, though the suit argues that there is no compelling interest for the state to require that any marriage be licensed and registered. It makes no sense.”
In an earlier article on the issue (Guilford County Lawsuit Over State Marriage Licenses in Error on a Number of Counts), Dr. Creech addressed the inconsistency of the complaint’s advocating against any faith-based morality imposed on marriage but then calling for bans on bigamy and polygamy and also the plaintiff’s failure to recognize the impact of marriage on society.
The suit does not elaborate on how the state could uphold bans on certain types of marriage without any procedure to determine who is getting married in the first place or how authorities could sort out issues of child custody or property disputes in connection with marriages that may or not may not have existed since there would be no registration record.
Further, the suit does not represent the opinion of the North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds, even though the claim says that Thigpen is acting as a “class representative on behalf of all the registers of deeds of North Carolina.”
According to a statement issued last month by Association President Wayne Rash of Caldwell County, the organization “was not consulted previously and had no knowledge” that Thigpen was filing a lawsuit challenging marriage laws.
“Mr. Thigpen was acting in his individual capacity as the duly elected Register of Deeds in Guilford County, as he is entitled to, but not on behalf of the North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds or his fellow Registers,” the statement reads. “Despite inferences in the lawsuit that would seem to imply otherwise, our Association does not endorse nor are we a party to this legal action.”
Dr. Creech said the most important implication of the lawsuit is that North Carolina needs a Marriage Amendment in its constitution to defend traditional marriage.
Given the timing of the suit, Vote FOR Marriage views it as an “attempt to pre-empt and disrupt the expression of the will of the people of North Carolina” through their vote on the Marriage Protection Amendment, currently scheduled for May 8.
“If we don’t get the vote out and get Constitutional protection, frivolous lawsuits such as this one could land before an activist judge and result in a court imposed definition or requirement for marriage policy,” Dr. Creech said. “This kind of thing should spur us to act now to spread the word about the Marriage Protection vote in May. Make no mistake about it; this is an ‘all hands on deck’ moment for every Christian in North Carolina. We’re going to need money and volunteers to support the campaign to get the vote out.”