Federal court upholds NC magistrates right to opt out of performing gay marriages

4th Circuit Court of Appeals upholds Senate Bill 2 from 2015

Madeline Gray—North State Journal
FILE PHOTO:James Perry

RALEIGH — In a victory for social conservatives, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that North Carolina’s civil magistrates have a right to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages.The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower district court ruling, stating that the couples who brought the suit against the state lack the legal grounds to do so. According to the opinion of the court, the plaintiffs, “all of whom are either married or engaged, do not claim that the state has impeded their right to get married,” but instead challenged their right as taxpayers who “object to the alleged spending of public funds in aid of religion.”Judge Harvie Wilkinson from Virginia wrote the opinion, with input from Justices Barbara Milano Keenan, also of Virginia, and Stephanie Thacker of West Virginia. The ruling upholds Senate Bill 2, a law that was introduced by N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) in 2015. The bill was met with controversy when then-Gov. Pat McCrory, also a Republican, vetoed the bill only to be overrode by the GOP supermajority in the General Assembly.”Once again, a federal court has rejected the idea that exercising one’s First Amendment religious freedoms somehow infringes on others’ rights — which was made clear when the plaintiffs couldn’t find even one North Carolinian who was unable to get married under this law,” Berger said Wednesday in a written statement.His office asserts that the law preserves the ability of everyone who is legally eligible to get married, but makes clear that magistrates and registers of deeds’ employees with religious objections have the right to recuse themselves from performing all marriage ceremonies — including traditional marriage — without fear of losing their jobs or facing criminal prosecution.