Commentary

“Religious freedom” bill may not leave enough magistrates to perform marriages

marriage amendmentYesterday afternoon, members of the public were given an opportunity to share their thoughts on Senate Bill 2 before the House Judiciary I Committee. The bill, which would permit magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages due to their religious beliefs, has been hotly contested since it was first introduced in late January.

During the meeting, opponents of the bill stressed the difference between the civil duty of magistrates and the religious freedom of clergy. They also reminded the committee that government officials shouldn’t be allowed to refuse to perform a duty which is part of their job when it deprives the public of a right. However, disagreement between committee members on whether performing civil marriages is the duty of a magistrate or a power given to him provided evidence that many legislators are still missing the point.

It was, therefore, probably a good for the legislators to also hear about the practical problems with the bill. According to Jeff Thigpen, Register of Deeds in Guilford County, there is already a deficit of magistrates in the state and a very large number of marriages to perform. In just the previous month, in his county, there were 3,600 civil marriages, 265 of which were same-sex marriages. If magistrates are given the choice to opt-out of performing same-sex marriages, which will bar them from performing any marriages for the following six months, it’s likely there won’t be enough magistrates to perform any marriages. Also, as Wayne Rash of the North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds, explained, 42 counties in North Carolina have 3 or fewer magistrates in their office and 8 of those counties only have one magistrate. The government officials who would be affected by the bill on a daily basis wanted to know what would happen if one of the magistrates in these single magistrate offices was to recuse him or herself? And if they were to hire a new magistrate to replace him, would they able to ask the candidate what his religious views are? If not, it’s possible that the new magistrate would also ask for a religious recusal which would put them back at square one.

These are valid questions that, if viewed without the lens of personal bias, should prove to legislators that regardless of whether or not they believe this is a discriminatory bill, it is an impractical one.

10 Comments


  1. LayintheSmakDown

    March 5, 2015 at 10:00 am

    Really? Even at 1-2 at most a week there should be PLENTY of people to perform a civil union procedure.

  2. ML

    March 5, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Lsd says it will be fine. No need to worry about what the register of deeds for guilford county and the association head of nc’s register of deeds. Let’s not forget our Supreme Court Chief Justice has also made it clear how understaffed and underfunded our court system is.

    This whole issue is ridiculous. Just do your job and serve the public as you are paid to do.

  3. Tarheelborn

    March 5, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Maybe LSD needs to revisit basic math. The Guilford County Register of Deeds said there were 3600 marriages in Guilford County last month. I’m no STEM graduate, but I believe that’s 900 marriages a week — not 1 or 2.
    It would be interesting to know the numbers from some of the smaller counties that have only 1-3 magistrates who would other duties beyond performing marriage ceremonies.

  4. LayintheSmakDown

    March 6, 2015 at 9:01 am

    You are saying there were 3600 gay marriages in Guilford county that week? That certainly does not make sense. What I am saying is let the normal magistrates attend to the normal marriages, and then designate your morally corrupt magistrate for the 1-2 gay marriages that take place. Assuming you can find the morally corrupt magistrate you are fine.

  5. Tarheelborn

    March 6, 2015 at 9:54 am

    LSD: Read again. There were 3600 civil ceremonies in Guildford County last month; that means 900 per week. There were 265 same-six marriages, which works out to about 65 per week. (It is still a mystery where your 1-2 number came from.) Your last comment suggests that all will be well because there will be few same sex civil marriages. That may be true, but the bill introduced by Sen. Berger doesn’t allow a magistrate to just refuse to perform same sex ceremonies. Sen. Berger apparently recognizes the potential risk in authorizing magistrates to discriminate against gay couples in light of recent court decisions. So Berger’s bill allows a magistrate who has a religious objection (undefined) to performing some weddings to be excused from performing all weddings for a period of six months. The concern the magistrates and registrars have raised is that in some judicial districts that may mean that no magistrate is available to perform weddings at all and even in those with multiple magistrates the opt-out will over burden the remaining public officials who are actually willing to do their jobs.

  6. LayintheSmakDown

    March 8, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    Hmmm, your numbers are quite fishy when you consider that Jeff Thigpen has admitted there has been a significant tapering off of these requests recently. I see you have provided no documentation on your numbers. But here is a rational(of which being progressive I assume you will ignore) view that does not only look at a time of excessive demand for a product that is new, novel and “exciting”. The data I can find shows approximately 64,000 marriages in NC in 2010. If you extrapolate the NHIS assumption that 1.3% of all people are indeed gay (I feel that is high, but lets roll with it) then that would be 832 marriages in a typical year….lets just round up to 1,000 to be extra fair. Now there are 100 counties in NC, and lets be generous and say only 25 will have gay marriages. Now you can spread evenly and say that is 34 marriages on average per YEAR for those counties or even if it is say 10 counties with these “marriages” you see at the high end 84 per YEAR which if you assume that they only happen over 6 months in the year that would be 14 per MONTH….hardly hundreds in each county.

  7. Tarheelborn

    March 9, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Honestly LSD– do you ever actually read anything? And once you have read it, do you even attempt to process it? The numbers that I used were the numbers that Jeff Thigpen provided for one month in Guilford County (either Jan. or Feb. — not sure which month he was referring to). I just did the division to calculate weekly numbers in response to your comment pulling the number 1-2 per week out of thin air. It is probably true that numbers of same sex marriages will taper off, but there is no reason to believe the number of heterosexual marriages will. So the problem remains the same — in urban counties where lots of civil ceremonies take place, the entire civil ceremony workload (heterosexual and same sex weddings) will back up on to the magistrates actually willing to perform a same sex ceremony. In counties with access to only a small number of magistrates (say 1-3) it may take only one request for a same-sex ceremony to cause the only magistrate(s) available to stop doing weddings altogether. To simplify: under the Senate bill just one request for a same sex ceremony could allow all of the magistrates for a particular county to refuse to perform any civil ceremonies for six months. Sheesh.

  8. LayintheSmakDown

    March 9, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    So you still have no documentation? And I also “got information from Thigpen” via the Rhino Times as he says demand for this thing has tapered off significantly in recent months.

    And you also must not read or do not understand rational thought. I assumed normalized demand, not a situation where there is a sudden release of a product that never existed in the state before. It is not statistically possible for there to be that many gay ceremonies on an ongoing basis for the long term when at most 1.3% of the population is homosexual and there are typically only 64000 total marriages in the state.

  9. LayintheSmakDown

    March 9, 2015 at 5:17 pm

    Oh, and I did not assume any marriages would taper off. But I had to use an average assumption for NC, not just Guilford County as they could be an outlier for your particular assertion.

  10. Tarheelborn

    March 10, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    LSD: You keep avoiding the basic point. It will only take one same sex wedding request (or one of any other kind of wedding that a magistrate claims religious objections to) to allow some or all of the magistrates serving a judicial district to opt out of performing all civil ceremonies.

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