Raleigh, N.C. — Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger fired back at the director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts on Monday, saying he doesn't understand the law and is ignoring magistrates' First Amendment right not to marry a sex-sex couple.
Berger's letter to Judge John Smith is the latest salvo over magistrates who cite religious objections to presiding over a gay marriage ceremony.
After several magistrates resigned their posts rather than be required to marry same-sex couples, Berger two weeks ago said he would file legislation that would explicitly permit magistrates to decline to perform same-sex marriages. He said magistrates who hold strong religious objections should be able to opt out of performing such marriages.
Smith then sent a three-page letter to all magistrates last Wednesday, saying that Berger may have "misled" them regarding their rights. The letter noted that some counties have only one magistrate and that federal laws have invalidated the state's prohibitions on same-sex marriages.
Berger's response says Smith "continues to sow seeds of doubt among courthouse officials and wrongly disregards one of our most cherished freedoms," adding that Smith's analysis of the situation "misunderstands the interplay between Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991" as well as ignores the First Amendment.
Federal courts haven't yet settled whether state bans against same-sex marriage are valid, he said.
"More troublingly, your communication lacks any sort of reasonable effort to constructively guide courthouse officials at a time when such leadership is needed most," Berger wrote. "Far from misleading anyone, our October 24 letter encourages thoughtful consideration of a sensitive matter of public law. To actively discourage such conciliation is inexplicable."