RALEIGH, North Carolina, December 11, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Three couples are challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina's law allowing magistrates to bow out of performing same-sex “marriages.”
According to court documents, the plaintiffs – two lesbian couples and an opposite-sex interracial couple – argue that the state's new law is discriminatory and thus unconstitutional. They and LGBT rights activists, as well as the state's GOP governor, all argue that the intention of the law is to illegally discriminate against same-sex couples.
However, ABC 11 noted that a state statute does not require couples to perform marriages, a position argued by North Carolina Values Coalition's Tami Fitzgerald.
“The whole lawsuit was based upon the assumption that there's a duty of magistrates to perform marriages,” Fitzgerald told ABC11, “and that's an incorrect assumption. It's incorrect legally because the statute says it's an additional authority. So it's optional for magistrates and registers of deeds. It's not a duty.”
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Enacted in June over Governor Pat McCrory's veto, Senate Bill 2 allows magistrates to avoid performing same-sex “marriage” ceremonies – as long as the magistrates then withdraw from conducting any marriage ceremonies for six months.
Thirty-two magistrates have taken advantage of this option, with other magistrates having to be bused in to perform ceremonies. The plaintiffs argue that this extra cost to the state gives them standing in court, as does the bill's provision of pension funds for those magistrates who resigned before Senate Bill 2 was enacted and then became magistrates again. The bill puts state money toward the pensions of the magistrates as though they had never resigned.
Fitzgerald countered that critics have “challenged a lawsuit based on a law they don't like.”
“What Senate Bill 2 does, it balances the right of homosexual couples to get married against the rights of an employee, including a government employee, to follow their religious beliefs, even when they're on the job. And we have a First Amendment right to exercise religious beliefs.”
The state's attorney general, Roy Cooper, says he will defend the law even though he disagrees with it. Fitzgerald noted that critics “can't point to one single case where a homosexual couple has been denied the right to get married.”
Two attorneys are representing the plaintiffs. One of them, Katherine Parker, is a former legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.