North Carolina lawmakers: Don't force magistrates to perform gay weddings

by Sarah Padbury
Posted 10/30/14, 01:14 pm

Fallout over same-sex marriage is shaking up North Carolina, where at least six magistrates quit rather than follow a recent state order requiring them to perform same-sex weddings, regardless of their personal religious or moral beliefs. The order came after a federal judge struck down the state’s marriage law earlier this month. Magistrates who don’t comply could face removal from office. But conservatives in the state say magistrates shouldn’t face losing their jobs for following their consciences.

On Oct. 10, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn declared North Carolina’s marriage amendment unconstitutional after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from neighboring Virginia of a similar decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Cogburn reasoned that because North Carolina fell under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction, the ruling was binding in that state as well.

Cogburn’s ruling voided a 2012 North Carolina state constitutional amendment approved by 62 percent of voters that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. North Carolina is one of 31 states in which same-sex marriage is now legal.

Gov. Patrick McCrory, a Republican, said in a statement the state would abide by the ruling and promised “each agency will work through the implications of the court’s ruling regarding its operations.” In the last two weeks, hundreds of same-sex marriage licenses have been issued in the state.

When a magistrate in Pasquotank County declined to wed a same-sex couple on Oct. 13, the Administrative Office of the Courts issued a memo to all magistrates: Perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, or face potential criminal prosecution, The News and Observer reported. Since then, at least six magistrates in five counties have quit or announced their resignations, according to the paper.

“It was my only option,” Gilbert Breedlove, 57, a 24-year magistrate in Swain County told the (Asheville) Citizen-Times. “We were directed we had to perform the marriages, and that was just something I couldn’t do because of my religious beliefs.” Breedlove also is an ordained pastor.

State Sen. Phil Berger and at least 27 other Republicans asked the Administrative Office of the Courts to grant waivers to magistrates who refuse to perform gay marriages due to religious convictions, according to The News and Observer. Berger also plans to introduce legislation in January to guarantee the same benefit for all state employees, The Charlotte Observer reported.

Gay marriage supporters blasted the lawmakers as sore losers.

“The opponents of marriage equality lost,” Louis Duke, president of the College Democrats of North Carolina, told The Daily Tar Heel. “It’s time to get over it and move on. Sen. Berger needs to stop throwing a hissy fit.”

But Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican, noted on his blog that the fight for marriage isn’t over if just one magistrate challenges the edict. The issue could result in a “constitutional showdown,” he said.

“Supporters of marriage should not lose heart,” Forest concluded.

Sarah Padbury

Sarah is a World Journalism Institute graduate and former WORLD correspondent.

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