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Same-sex marriage returns to spotlight on Jones St.

Posted February 24, 2015
Updated May 31, 2015

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, speaks about a bill that allows magistrates to excuse themselves from performing weddings. He spoke to the Senate Judiciary 2 Committee on Feb. 23, 2015.

— A proposal to allow magistrates with religious objections to same-sex marriage to opt out is on its way to the state Senate floor after a committee vote Tuesday morning.

Senate Bill 2, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, says that magistrates and assistant registers of deeds who object to same-sex marriage on religious grounds can choose not to perform or issue marriage licenses to any couple, same-sex or otherwise.

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Nash, presented the bill to the Senate Judiciary 2 Committee, saying "religious freedom is paramount" to the nation's history.

Newton vehemently declared his religious objection to same-sex marriage, saying he doesn't believe judges "are smarter than God," but adding, "That is the law."

"We have been thrown a curveball. I think our society has been thrown a curveball by the decision of some judges in federal court," Newton said. "We have to figure out how to deal with these sorts of issues.

"This bill prevents discrimination against magistrates who have sincerely held religious beliefs," he said. "It also prevents discrimination against homosexual couples who seek to be married in the state of North Carolina. This bill provides that they will have marriages under court order."

Under the bill, if all magistrates in a county refuse to perform marriages, the chief District Court judge would be tasked with either performing them or asking the Administrative Office of the Courts to send an outside magistrate to the county.

Marriages would have to be available 10 hours a week, spaced out over three business days.

Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, spoke against the bill.

"If we're all about jobs – and we've all said we're all about jobs – why in the world would we create a second class of people and discourage talent of any stripe from coming to North Carolina?" Van Duyn asked. "That is specifically what this bill will do."

Newton dismissed her comment as "talking points," while Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, responded that valuing jobs more than First Amendment rights is "reprehensible."

"Most folks overwhelmingly agree with one man, one woman is a marriage," Cook said.

Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, voiced concern that the bill doesn't specify when or how magistrates or register of deeds employees must recuse themselves from performing marriages, opening the possibility of "discrimination in the moment" if a same-sex couple appears at a courthouse but cannot marry because a clerk or magistrate recuses himself or herself on the spot.

"It seems to me, when you're putting a limitation on how and when, you're denying them equal access," said Sen. Erica Smith-Ingram, D-Northampton, "They've been given a constitutional right to marry. When we were given the constitutional right to vote, there were measures put in place to make it difficult to vote," such as the poll tax.

"I don't know of any civil right to pull up to the drive-through of the magistrate's office and get an immediate marriage," Newton responded, adding that he believes the bill is "nailed-down constitutional," an assessment with which Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, disagreed.

Despite the weather and travel problems, several members of the public waited to address the committee.

"It's not about religious freedoms. It's a direct attack on the LGBT community," said Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro. "Freedom of religion is a basic American value. So are fairness and equality under the law, and that’s what we’re here to address."

The ACLU's Sarah Preston said the First Amendment "is not supposed to be used to allow a public official to impose his or her religious belief on others."

"We don't think it's right for the General Assembly to allow public employees to opt out of duties they have sworn to perform," Preston said. "This bill was conceived to deny gay and lesbian couples their access to the right to marry."

North Carolina Family Policy Council Director John Rustin stood to express his gratitude for the legislation.

"This bill balances in a very appropriate way the necessity for the issuance of marriage licenses in North Carolina ," Rustin said, "with the need to protect the religious liberties of magistrates and public servants.'

The committee passed the measure on a voice vote that appeared to be divided along party lines. The bill will likely reach the Senate floor Wednesday.

44 Comments

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  • Linzie Washington Feb 25, 2015
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    There is zero hypocrisy in my statements. You just do not understand.
    You have the right to live, but NOT to have the things that keep you alive provided to you by other people.
    We all have the obligation to help others, but we have the free will not to do so too. We are not required as Christians to vote for people who will take money from others who do not wish to give in order to run it through a group of politicians who will live high on the hog and use that money to buy votes. It also is not a requirement to perform a medical procedure because the government tells us to. We are required to dig deep into our own pockets and to use our own resources to help people directly.
    One is called charity and the other is legalized theft. When I stand before God, he will not care that my money was forcibly taken from me and a small portion of it helped people. He will want to know what I did willingly to help my fellow man.

  • Alexia Proper Feb 25, 2015
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    It is good to help others, but there is no obligation that exists.

  • Matt Wood Feb 25, 2015
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    "The right to speak and think as we we wish as long as it does not physically hurt another person is our most basic right."

    "We do not have a right to be fed, housed or given medical care because those things infringe on other people's rights to be able to refuse to provide for other people."

    Do you not see the hypocrisy of those two statements? EVERYONE has the right to live, and EVERYONE has an obligation to help those less fortunate, or at least, so says the Christians.

  • Linzie Washington Feb 25, 2015
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    We have strayed so far from the principles that this country was founded on.
    Something is not a right because men vote it to be. Rights are inalienable, meaning that they are not granted or taken away by human beings. We are born with them. The right to speak and think as we we wish as long as it does not physically hurt another person is our most basic right. We do not have a right to be fed, housed or given medical care because those things infringe on other people's rights to be able to refuse to provide for other people.

  • Clif Bardwell Feb 25, 2015
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    Excuse me? Equal to everyone? Can I take off Yom Kippur if I am not Jewish? No. (Well, I can but not as a holiday off) Are non-Christians allowed to deliver mail on Christmas day? No.

    One of the main problems in DC (or politic in general) is the seeming inability to meet halfway on anything. Bi-partisan means do it my way, period. We make concessions for the minority all the time. Why can't you allow this one concession? Yeah, I know why. It's because the ones who are asking for the concession are white-christian males.

    You want everyone to see from your point of view, but you refuse to even consider that there may be another point of view. Not saying either is valid nor invalid, just different.

    Rather than force people to do things that are against their beliefs, how about we cooperate and allow those few their concession and create a new law that says that all new magistrates must perform same gender marriages?

  • Kathryn Adams Feb 25, 2015
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    Translation: "This doesn't affect me personally, therefore no one should think this is important." If this were YOUR ability to get married being discussed here then I'd be more willing to accept your dismissive "No Big Deal" argument.

    And the only people trying to "control" someone are the ones who apparently had their fingers crossed behind their backs when they swore to uphold the Constitution.

  • Matt Wood Feb 25, 2015
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    All those days off apply EQUALLY to EVERYONE. That's the difference you can't seem to grasp. Taking a religious holiday is comparing apples to oranges, as it applies to their employment, not to their selectively providing services to the public they are sworn to serve.

  • Kaitlyn Legare Feb 25, 2015
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    It might sound like it's "no big deal" on the surface but is it really? Was it no big deal to be made to sit in the back of the bus? After all you still got to your destination on time. Was it no big deal to be made to drink out of a separate water fountain or to use a separate bathroom? You still got to have water and use of the restroom? What might seem like little inconveniences are actually huge things because of the message they send. And that message being sent is that some people are less equal than others. Maybe same sex couples do want to test this, and I don't blame them. That's how progress is made.

    This whole idea of "Go away and come back tomorrow!" sounds like something from the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and her friends got ticked off by that, and for a good reason too.

  • Clif Bardwell Feb 25, 2015
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    Yeah, I want my mail on Sunday. I want to get married on Christmas day.

    For that matter, what about all those state workers who fought (and won) for the right to have their religious holidays off? Can we then tell them that they can't take off Yom Kippur or what ever holy day their faith insists is so important that they are forbidden from working?

    The government already makes allowances for religious reasons. Why should this be any different?

  • Matt Wood Feb 25, 2015
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    Have you considered "the principle of the issue?" As others have previously noted, allowing this legislation opens it up for government employees to apply religious objections to everything. Government employees are agents of the state, and as such, they cannot apply their own religious objections in conflict with law. And in the case for having to wait for another magistrate, it creates a "separate but equal" scenario where there are added barriers to a same-sex marriage that heterosexual marriages won't have. Just because you don't agree with people getting married "spur of the moment" marriages, it doesn't mean people don't have the right to get married as soon as they want. Not to mention, there are plenty of other reasons (besides your example of war) that couples may want an immediate marriage, such as illness. It's not your place to tell people how quickly they can get married, and in the end, that is YOU wanting to control THEM.

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