Traditional marriage backers urge registers of deeds to follow their conscience

Posted October 17, 2014

— One of the groups that fought to pass an amendment to the state constitution that had the effect of banning same-sex marriages has circulated a legal memo saying that registers of deeds and their staffs cannot be forced to issue marriage licenses that conflict with their religion.

"There are statutory and constitutional protections available for any Register of Deeds or staff member whose strongly held religious beliefs would make them refrain from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples," Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, wrote in an email Friday. "They can claim their First Amendment right not to violate their religious beliefs."

The memo was drafted by Alliance Defending Freedom, although it was not attributed to a specific attorney or other individual. According to the group, it was founded in 1994 and "has made a significant impact for God’s Kingdom through its winning legal efforts to preserve religious freedom for people of faith."

In its memo, the group offers legal help to registers of deeds who feel they are being forced to act contrary to their conscience.

"The full legal impact of the Fourth Circuit’s decision, including whether it undermines other traditional restrictions on marriage, like bigamy or consanguinity, is not yet known," reads the memo. "Some registers of deeds might believe that they face a serious dilemma: either resign their positions or violate their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs about marriage by being forced to issue marriage licenses to relationships inconsistent with those beliefs. But registers of deeds, as explained herein, can resolve this potential conflict."

The memo specifically suggests appointing a deputy within the office to handle marriage licenses when such a conflict arises.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, a group that opposed the marriage amendment and helped push for its defeat in the courts, said a pair of federal court orders "enjoins both the state and those employees from enforcing Amendment One in any way."

He described the Alliance's memo as "intentionally misleading," pointing to a directive on the topic issued to magistrates by the state's Administrative Office of the Courts earlier this week.

"I don't believe there's a reasonable legal argument to be offered on not conducting marriages," Sgro said.

ACLU state legal director Chris Brook said opponents of same-sex marriage have tried the same gambit unsuccessfully in other states. 

"This is because, in the words of Justice (Antonin) Scalia, writing for the court majority in Employment Division v. Smith, 'Supreme Court jurisprudence has consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes),'" Brook explained to WRAL News. 

Referring to the oath registers of deeds take when they're sworn into office, Brook added, "This is especially the case with state actors whose first responsibility is to uphold the U.S. Constitution, now definitively interpreted in North Carolina to allow the freedom to marry."

"As Governor McCrory and other officials have made clear," Brook wrote, "Federal courts have agreed that the 14th Amendment's guarantee of equal protection under the law for all citizens includes the right of gay and lesbian citizens to marry the person they love. The law is clear, and all state officials are bound to respect it."

"This has nothing to do with personal religious beliefs," added Sgro. "I fully support individual's rights to their beliefs. This is about doing a job. Good, hardworking North Carolinians know that every job has requirements. These are state employees, and it is their job to issue licenses to same-sex couples and conduct same-sex marriages the same as they would for opposite-sex couples."


This blog post is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • Dan Kimrey Oct 21, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Umm, we weren't too far removed from burning people as witches back then. What was your point again??

  • wjcspanteach Oct 21, 2014

    View quoted thread

    not right forum, but please show me ONE instance where a democrat has gotten got cheating that has been proven accurate. (Just because you accuse it, doesn't make it true --- remember the Duke Lax ordeal?)
    PS: Sources from any right wing think tank are not unbiased...so you can't use those.

  • wjcspanteach Oct 21, 2014

    View quoted thread

    I am so sorry that someone has forced you to enter into a Same Sex Marriage against your will. My deepest apologies. If that is NOT the case, then please explain to me how it was "forced" down your throat.

  • Tanya Rose Oct 21, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    It has nothing with being Anti-Christian. A good number of Liberals, including myself, are Christian. The difference is that I don't think it's right for me to use my personal beliefs to control other people's lives. I don't want to make anyone else pray the way I do, believe the way I do or act upon their beliefs the way I do. This whole SSM argument is a prime example of the Christian right trying to use their beliefs to control the behaviour of others and it's incredibly conceited. The best analogy I have seen is not letting anyone else have a doughnut because you are on a diet. Trying to pass laws based on your specific reglious beliefs is no different than a Christian version of Sharia Law. And homosexual behaviour happens enough in nature that it has been used as reasoning in a SCOTUS ruling. You can say it's unnatural all you want, but nature disagrees with you.

  • Michael Hart Oct 21, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    unfortunately you cons always forget "Interpretation" and thus create your own "Interpretation" of this as well as the 2nd Amendment!

  • Robert Richardson Oct 21, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Wrong article I think but to answer your question, doesn't the ID have to be state issued? Passing them out at the fair wouldn't cut it but you probably already knew that.

  • bubbaOK Oct 21, 2014

    The law is the law. Laws must be obeyed, no exceptions, no argument. Now if you don't like the law, change the law. Still laws must be obeyed, no two wrongs make it right.

  • Kenneth Gordon Hart Oct 21, 2014
    user avatar

    Thank you, SABSCO, could not have said it better. Do your job or resign and let some other grateful person have it. Exercise your bigotry on your own time.

  • Jason Conaway Oct 21, 2014
    user avatar

    Stand strong for your moral beliefs! Don't let the LGBTs bring you down! Hey, we have all read the book, and we know how it ends. This is all temporary!

  • Tony Snark Oct 20, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Not a big deal. The laws just need to be gender neutral.