Courts & the Law, News

Federal court dismisses lawsuit over religious magistrates allowed to refuse performing same-sex marriages

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld the GOP’s Senate Bill 2, a law that allows North Carolina magistrates to refuse to perform same-sex marriages based on their religious beliefs.

A three-judge panel from the Richmond-based court dismissed Ansley v. Warren because the couples who brought the suit did not have standing as North Carolina taxpayers.

“The outcome here is in no way a comment on same-sex marriage as a matter of social policy,” the 18-page opinion states. “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. Based on a century of Supreme Court precedent, we conclude that they have not.”

The Campaign for Southern Equality responded to the ruling and said the plaintiffs are considering further legal options, either appealing to the entire federal Appeals Court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“SB2 is unjust and distorts the true meaning of religious freedom,” said the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “From day one, it’s been clear that SB2 is about one thing – finding a new way to discriminate against same-sex couples and privileging one set of religious beliefs over others. We will keep standing up to discrimination until LGBTQ North Carolinians are equal in every sphere of life.”

The ruling was a win for Republican leaders. Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger, who sponsored SB2, praised the court’s decision.

“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,” he said in a statement.

Lawmakers passed SB2 over former Republican Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto.

The three-judge panel’s decision was unanimous, written by James Harvie Wilkinson III who was joined by Judges Barbara Milano Keenan and Stephanie Dawn Thacker.

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