Metro Weekly

Federal judge allows North Carolina officials to keep refusing same-sex marriages

Lawyers for three plaintiff couples say they're appealing the decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C. (Photo credit: Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons).

North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C. (Photo credit: Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons).

A federal judge has dismissed a challenge to a North Carolina law that allows magistrates and registers of deeds to refuse to marry same-sex couples by citing religious objections.

The lawsuit, known as Ansley v. Warren, was brought by the Campaign for Southern Equality and Equality NC on behalf of two same-sex couples and an interracial couple. The interracial couple successfully sued in the mid-1970s after Forsyth County magistrates attempted to use religion as a justification for enforcing the state’s anti-miscegenation laws, CBS News reports.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the three couples lacked legal standing as taxpayers to sue, and that the couples did not demonstrate that they have been directly harmed by the law, which went into effect in June 2015.

However, Cogburn did note in his ruling that someone could potentially suffer real harm because of the law. Only about 5 percent of the state’s magistrates have decided to recuse themselves, which, under state law means they cannot perform any marriages — whether same-sex or heterosexual — for a period of at least six months.

The law, known as Senate Bill 2, was passed as part of a backlash against the overturn of North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, and sought to undercut a potential Supreme Court ruling in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry.

The bill sets up a process for finding a substitute from another county to perform the marriage. It also requires the judicial system to pay retirement contributions to magistrates who recuse themselves from solemnizing marriages.

The plaintiffs’ legal team has filed a document informing the court that they are going to appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Senate Bill 2 expressly declares that magistrates’ religious beliefs are superior to their oath of judicial office to uphold and support the federal constitution,” Luke Largess, the lead counsel in the case, said in a statement. “And the law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs. That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment. The court ruled that we were not challenging Senate Bill 2, but only the incidental spending by the Administrative Office of the Courts. That is clearly not the case.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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