US Appeals Court Gives North Carolina Magistrates Option to Not Perform Same-sex Weddings

A federal appellate court has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged a North Carolina law that grants religious freedom exemptions to government officials who refuse to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies on grounds that it would violate their religious beliefs.

In June 2015, lawmakers in North Carolina overrode former Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto and enacted a law that protected magistrates who feel it would violate their religious beliefs to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies by giving them the option to recuse themselves from participating in any marriage ceremony for a six-month period. The law came after a federal court struck down the state’s ban against same-sex marriage in 2014.

If there isn’t a magistrate in a county willing to perform same-sex marriages, the law, known as SB 2, calls for a willing magistrate in another county to be brought in to conduct marriages.

The law came under scrutiny from the political left and was challenged in court by three gay couples. Two of the plaintiffs were from McDowell County where all magistrates recused themselves from performing marriages. That forced public funds to be expensed to transport magistrates from nearby Rutherford County to perform marriages and magistrates to Rutherford County to carry out other judicial duties.

But on Wednesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit threw out the case.

“The outcome here is in no way a comment on same-sex marriage as a matter of social policy. The case before us is far more technical — whether plaintiffs, simply by virtue of their status as state taxpayers, have alleged a personal, particularized injury for the purposes of Article III standing,” the court’s opinion, written by Circuit Court Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III, reads. “Based on a century of Supreme Court precedent, we conclude that they have not.”

President Pro Tempore of the North Carolina Senate Phil Berger, a Republican who sponsored SB 2, praised the court’s ruling.

“Once again, a federal court has rejected the idea that exercising one’s First Amendment religious freedoms somehow infringes on others’ rights — which was made clear when the plaintiffs couldn’t find even one North Carolinian who was unable to get married under this law,” Berger said in a statement.

Attorney Luke Largess, a Charlotte lawyer involved in the lawsuit, told The Charlotte Observer that the plaintiffs are reviewing how best to proceed after the court’s dismissal.

“We are reviewing the court’s opinion published this morning and will make a decision about whether to pursue any further appeals, either to the full 4th Circuit or to the Supreme Court,” Largess said

Mat Staver, chairman of the Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian nonprofit dedicated to protecting First Amendment rights, said that the court’s decision means that the magistrates “have the constitutional right to follow their conscience and rights to free exercise without fear of punishment.”

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Source: Christian Post