Judge dismisses case against North
Carolina's gay marriage opt-out law
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[September 22, 2016]
By Mica Rosenberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge threw
out a challenge to a North Carolina law that allows government officials
to refuse to perform same-sex marriages if they cite religious
objections, claiming the couples who brought the suit failed to
establish they were harmed by the law.
The six plaintiffs, who include gay couples, argued in the suit filed in
U.S. District Court in Asheville that the legislation - Senate Bill 2 -
allows magistrates and other officials performing marriages to put their
personal beliefs before their sworn constitutional duty.
The plaintiffs said on Wednesday they would appeal the ruling issued by
U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn on Tuesday.
Cogburn said the plaintiffs had not argued they were being directly
injured by the law, but instead said that their tax dollars were not
being used according to the constitution.
He said they had not presented enough evidence to prove they had been
harmed as taxpayers, although he did add that citizens could potentially
suffer "real or emotional harm" as a result of the law because the
magistrates decision to opt-out is secret.
North Carolina's Republican-led legislature passed the law in 2015 as
social conservatives nationwide pushed for so-called "religious freedom
bills" in response to same-sex marriage becoming legal.
State legislators overrode Republican Governor Pat McCrory's veto of the
measure the same month the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage
across the country.
Data from September 2015 showed at least 32 magistrates across the state
have thus far exempted themselves as have Register of Deeds employees in
five counties, according the Campaign for Southern Equality, which
supported the suit.
"Senate Bill 2 expressly declares that magistrates religious beliefs are
superior to their oath of judicial office," said attorney Luke Largess
from Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, which represented the couples in the
case. "The law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs.
That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment."
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A box of cupcakes are seen topped with icons of same-sex couples at
City Hall in San Francisco, June 29, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
The office of North Carolina's Attorney General declined to comment on
the case, according to spokeswoman Noelle Talley.
Magistrates who ask to opt out are barred from performing any marriage,
gay or heterosexual, for six months.
The nonprofit group the Liberty Counsel, which represented a magistrate
as an intervenor in the case, said both the U.S. Constitution and the
North Carolina Constitution require accommodation of religious beliefs
even for government officials.
North Carolina has come under fire for another law passed earlier this
year that prohibits people from using public restrooms not corresponding
to their biological sex.
Major sports organizations including the National Collegiate Athletic
Association and the National Basketball Association have moved their
competitions from the state to protest the so-called bathroom bill.
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Alan Crosby)
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