After a federal appeals court ruling, a North Carolina law that enables magistrates to refrain from performing same sex marriages will continue in full force, according to an article by The Charlotte Observer.
Introduced as Senate Bill 2 by State Senator Phil Berger, the law in question allows magistrates and other officials to decline to perform a lawful marriage based on religious objections. Senate Bill 2 arrived in the North Carolina legislature in 2015, in response to a 2014 federal court decision.
That 2014 decision essentially legalized same sex marriage legal in North Carolina. Moreover, any magistrate who refused to perform a lawful wedding could be subject to discipline. Several months later, Berger introduced Senate Bill 2. Former Governor Pat McCrory vetoed the initial bill. But the legislature overcame that veto and passed Senate Bill 2 on June 11, 2015.
Approximately two weeks later, the United States Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, rendering same sex marriage a fundamental, constitutional right across the United States. But Senate Bill 2 lives on in North Carolina, creating a potential conflict between state law and federal rights.
In an effort to combat Senate Bill 2, three different couples banded together to file a challenge in federal court. The couples argued that their taxes should not help facilitate this type of law. At the time of filing, approximately five percent of North Carolina magistrates were refusing to perform same sex marriages on religious grounds. Of particular note, every single magistrate in McDowell County was refraining from performing same sex marriages due to religious objections.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, heard the case. After considering the arguments and evidence, the Fourth Circuit determined that the couples lacked standing to bring a challenge. The court noted that none of the couples had their marriage licenses rejected. Without suffering harm – such as denial of marriage due to a magistrate’s religious objection – the couples are not allowed to challenge the law merely as taxpayers. As a result, the Fourth Circuit dismissed the case.
At this point, the couples will need to decide whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until then, Senate Bill 2 will continue on in full force as the law of the land in North Carolina.
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