Judge dismisses challenge to NC gay-marriage law

Posted September 21, 2016

A Wake County magistrate marries a same-sex couple after a federal court ruling overturned North Carolina's constitutional prohibition against gay marriage.

— A federal judge has dismissed a challenge to a North Carolina law that allows magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples by citing religious beliefs.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn said the two gay and one interracial couple who filed suit over the law lack legal standing as taxpayers to sue and lack evidence showing they were harmed directly by the law, which took effect in June 2015.

"The court ... finds that Plaintiffs lack standing by virtue of the fact that their claims are merely generalized grievances with a state law with which they disagree," Cogburn wrote in his 38-page ruling, which was issued Tuesday. "Plaintiffs have not alleged, let alone submitted affidavits or other evidence, showing any injury in the form of direct harm that might allow the court to find standing on grounds other than taxpayer status."

The plaintiffs' lawyers filed a notice Wednesday that they plan to appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who authored the law, said the ruling demonstrates the law is sound.

"We appreciate the court recognizing the plaintiffs failed to identify even one North Carolinian who was denied the ability to get married under this reasonable law, which protects fundamental First Amendment rights," Berger said in a statement.

Still, Cogburn said there is potential someone could suffer real harm because of the law.

"A law that allows a state official to opt out of performing some of the duties of the office for sincerely held religious beliefs, while keeping it a secret that the official opted out, is fraught with potential for harm that could be of constitutional magnitude," the judge wrote.

Lawmakers passed the legislation over Gov. Pat McCrory's veto after federal courts struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage. The law allows magistrates and staffers in county register of deeds office to opt out of presiding over weddings or issuing marriage licenses for six months if they have a religious objection to same-sex marriage. But it requires that counties make someone else available to issue licenses and handle weddings.

North Carolina is one of only two states with such religious-objection laws that are being enforced. About 5 percent of North Carolina's magistrates have filed recusal notices.


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  • Alfred Barnes Sep 21, 6:24 p.m.
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    Nothing, just don't require me to condone it. That is a violation of my first amendment civil rights.

  • Aiden Audric Sep 21, 4:46 p.m.
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    And even more sad that people who support him don't understand, either. I read what happened and wasn't disappointed - I was relieved. The judicial system is continuing to get it more right on LGBT rights than it is wrong.

    This dismissal was proper - unfortunately many will think it's because "marriage equality is wrong" or "gay is immoral" or "see, the law protects Christians in our Christian nation" or... well, anything except the truth about why it was proper- "they had no standing so they had no case."

    This will either be struck down, or end up in court again - this time with plaintiffs who were damaged by our government's decision to ignore the Constitution.

  • Clif Bardwell Sep 21, 4:41 p.m.
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    Tell that to Roy Cooper who refuses to defend HB2.

  • Matt Wood Sep 21, 4:24 p.m.
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    Lots of people didn't (and still don't) believe in integrating schools...

  • Dan Homiller Sep 21, 3:54 p.m.
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    Nobody is asking the magistrates to participate in "sodomy" or even witness it, so there wouldn't be any conflict.
    In any case, your information is way out of date. N.C.'s anti-sodomy statute, while still on the books, hasn't been legally applicable to non-commercial activity between consenting adults since 2003.

  • Joseph Heel Sep 21, 2:05 p.m.
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    When you take a job within the government, you are required to follow the laws as they are written. You are also being paid with tax dollars that are paid by all and should have to serve them all. I shouldn't have to walk into a government office and wonder if I'm going to get a marriage license just because someone won't do their job.

  • Karen Orndorff Sep 21, 1:28 p.m.
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    Personal opinion, Government should not push someone to do something they do not believe in.

  • Joseph Heel Sep 21, 1:28 p.m.
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    "Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, who authored the law, said the ruling demonstrates the law is sound." - Kind of sad that Phil Berger doesn't understand that the ruling was based on the plantiff's standing to file suit and not on the actual merits of the law.

  • Lee Rogers Sep 21, 12:42 p.m.
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    This is simple - do your job or resign.