Commentary

Magistrates and same-sex marriage: Who defines “sincere religious belief”?

Raleigh’s News & Observer has a fine editorial this morning in which it fricassees the state Senate over the absurd bill it approved today to establish a “separate but equal” marriage system for the state. As the editorial noted:

“Sworn public officials have to do their duty, and this not-so-clever bit of legislating is certain to be found unconstitutional. Magistrates and registers of deeds don’t get to cop out of their jobs based on their personal beliefs.

This is amateur hour at the General Assembly, and a petty action that could get expensive. The legislature already has spent nearly $100,000 to have outside lawyers appeal the federal rulings on same-sex marriage. State Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, wisely decided not to press on with appeals once the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the issue.

If the high court rules that laws banning gay marriage are unconstitutional, it follows that a silly maneuver like this one regarding magistrates will fall quickly in the courts as well.”

Another issue the authors might have noted and that Senator Angela Bryant and others rightfully emphasized in today’s debate is the question of “what constitutes a ‘sincere religious belief’?” Will it now be okay for magistrates who have “sincere religious” objections to interracial marriage to opt out of their jobs?

And, for that matter, what about other providers of public services? What if a schoolteacher’s sincere religious belief forbids the teaching of boys and girls together in the same classroom? What if an E.M.T. converts to a religion that forbids blood transfusions?

Senator Newton, one of the the bill’s chief defenders, made clear in his defense of Senate Bill 2 today that a magistrate could have a heartfelt conversion on the matter on Sunday and show up for work the next day and ask to be exempted from performing marriages. Under such “logic,” however, it’s hard to see where all this will end.

Shouldn’t ticket takers at state museums have the right to refuse to serve families with two moms or two dads if their “sincere religious beliefs” tell them that them they are abetting a crime against God by doing so? What about a clerk in the state Treasurer’s office whose religion forbids the collection of interest on loans and asks to be exempted from processing documents on the subject?

As the N&O rightfully points out, passage of the bill into law will set North Carolina on an expensive and futile course. It will also, quite clearly, be a dangerously slippery slope.

14 Comments


  1. jtab4994

    February 25, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    “Sincerely held beliefs” have a long history of getting people out of normal tasks that most of us take for granted. Quakers get out of the military draft, for instance, and the Amish don’t pay into Social Security. Your list of “what if’s” reminds me of the right-wingers’ slippery-slope list of possible marriage laws (polygamy, bestiality, etc.) Why not just admit that a relative minority of people can and do have sincerely held beliefs?

  2. LayintheSmakDown

    February 25, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    The person should define sincere religious beliefs and be able to opt out of violating their own civil rights if they choose.

  3. ML

    February 25, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    It’s called quitting. Republicans for years have made it known that they believe nobody is entitled to their job if they aren’t willing to handle the responsibilities. I mean they don’t even believe teachers deserve a reason and some minimal due process before they are fired (btw, that is tenure for teachers, not tenure like professor Nichols and others in universities and colleges).

    Just find another job. It’s that simple. Don’t bring your religion to work and everything is fine.

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    February 26, 2015 at 8:37 am

    ML, now you are suddenly a conservative? As a good liberal you should be concerned with their rights, no one should have to quit their job if they are being discriminated against.

    By the way, where it the Tony Tata update…where was he last night?

  5. ML

    February 26, 2015 at 9:23 am

    The magistrates are not being discriminated against. They are discriminating against others while not doing their job.

    What a waste of time and money by Berger. This law will not stand up to the constitution and even if you agree with the law you must be able to see the writing in the wall. Flail and twist and cry all you want but the Christian anti-gay stuff just comes off as ignorant and bitter, game over guys.

  6. ML

    February 26, 2015 at 9:26 am

    As for tata, all I can say is he likely was NOT earning his paycheck from nc.

  7. LayintheSmakDown

    February 26, 2015 at 10:26 am

    ML, they are being discriminated against by being forced to do something that is against their religious beliefs in order to satisfy some non-existent right. And I guess we will see when the SC has a ruling on the law. Whine and screech all you want, but these people’s rights are being violated.

  8. ML

    February 26, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    They were not forced to become magistrates and swear an oath to uphold the law and perform issue marriage licenses. They refuse to do their job and in so doing discriminate against another group of people, then they should be let go so they can work for a church.

  9. LayintheSmakDown

    February 26, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Yes they were not forced to be magistrates, but they are citizens with rights and freedom of religion. We should not be denying one right just to satisfy what some feel is another right.

  10. ML

    February 27, 2015 at 7:43 am

    I agree. Right to receive a marriage license or the right to discriminate against same-sex couples. You tell me which is the one right and which is the “perceived” right.

  11. ML

    February 27, 2015 at 7:45 am

    Your problem is you don’t believe they are equal right because you are biased and against same-sex marriage. However, the law and the Supreme Court disagree with you. In the end this will only be a waste of money and time but more importantly will waste time for those just looking to participate in their natural right to marry and love whomever they choose.

  12. LayintheSmakDown

    February 27, 2015 at 9:54 pm

    Well, a marriage license is not in the US constitution. Religion is. And you are biased in the opposite way nothing wrong with a view…you dont have to believe the way I do and vice versa. But I should not be required to participate in what you view is a right. And the USSC has not ruled yet on the subject, just google that and you will see the subject is very much up in the air.

  13. ML

    March 1, 2015 at 11:28 am

    They’ve declined to rule and thus allowed the opinion of the lower courts to stand. If an opinion is not overruled then it is in fact the rule of law. That’s just how it works.

    Marriage is actually a fundamental right in constitution standards. It is on the exact same level as freedom of religion, speed, due process.

    No body is forcing anybody to do anything except perform the responsibilities of their job. A teacher is not allowed to turn away a student bc of their sexual orientation, the firefighter can’t let a house burn bc it is in a minority neighbor hood or Islamic neighborhood. A judge can’t grant an order or deny an order based on the persons religion, only the law. The law states that federal law is supreme to state law and the state law has been ruled unconstitutional. This the magistrates must uphold the law and perform their duties and check their bigotry at the door.

  14. ML

    March 1, 2015 at 11:29 am

    Speech* not speed.

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