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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.

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Commentary

marriage amendmentThe Faytteville Observer published an op-ed over the weekend by reporter Paul Woolverton in which he critiqued the bill state Senators advanced last week to set up, in effect, “separate but equal” marriages for same sex couples. Interestingly though, his focus was not on the language allowing magistrates to opt out of marriage duties due to “sincere religious beliefs.”

Instead, Woolverton flew up to a slightly higher altitude and rightfully asked: Why in the heck are magistrates even involved in officiating marriages?

“Lawmakers who say they want lower taxes and smaller government dropped the ball Wednesday.

Their missed opportunity was glaring when the Senate voted to create a law to let magistrates opt out of conducting any weddings if they have a religious objection. This issue has surfaced since gay marriage became legal in the state.

No one in the debate questioned the underlying premise that a magistrate or clergy member is necessary to seal the marriage contract.”

Of his local lawmakers who supported the bill, Woolverton said this:

“As fiscal conservatives, they could have said to themselves: A man and a woman pay the government $60 to get a government-approved marriage license. Why should they then have to visit another government office and pay the government another $20, or hire a government-designated third party for a fee or ‘donation,’ to finalize their marriage contract?”

He sums up this way:

“If it’s good policy for the government to be involved in marriage, then the government should make its involvement the least intrusive it can be. It should record marriages when couples visit the Register of Deeds to buy their marriage licenses. The staff at that office can handle the ‘I do’s.’ Read More

Commentary

If you didn’t get your paper this morning because of the snow, be sure to click here to check out Asheville judge Perry Dror’s op-ed on the state Senate’s latest marriage discrimination proposal in Raleigh’s News & Observer.  As Dror explains:

I understand that some magistrates have felt deep concern about whether they should marry same-sex couples based on their sincere religious convictions. Some have even gone so far as to resign.

But any magistrate who resigns over “religious objections” to performing same-sex marriages is confusing a magistrate’s responsibility to conduct civil marriage ceremonies with a member of the clergy’s ability to sanctify a marriage.

Magistrates don’t sanctify marriages, and never have. We perform civil ceremonies, and we shouldn’t have the ability to deny that service to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, race or religion.

The U.S. Constitution protects the free exercise of religion and ensures that no clergy member would ever be forced to sanctify a marriage with which they disagree. Under the law, no church can be compelled to perform a marriage that falls outside their faith tradition.

But government is different. Public officials should treat everyone equally under the law. Our oath demands it.

Commentary
Guilford Co. Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Senate Bill 2, the controversial proposal to allow North Carolina magistrates to avoid their duty to perform marriages for same-sex couples was whisked through the state Senate’s Judiciary II Committee today as thousands of North Carolinians remained stranded by an unexpected snowstorm. By my watch, the meeting featured all of eight minutes in public comment on what is, by any fair assessment, a proposal of great import and serious constitutional implications.

Of course, the lightning-fast review was no accident. When you’re selling a proposal that’s a gussied up effort to legalize discrimination and “separate but equal” public services, it’s best not to linger in any one place for too long lest people quickly see through the pancake makeup.

Let’s hope that, at some point, public outrage at the proposal (see for instance, today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File) forces lawmakers to apply the brakes to this particular train so that additional rational voices can be heard.

In this vein, a great example would be Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen. here is a letter Thigpen sent to the memberso the Judiciary II Committee via email at 7:40 this morning:

Dear Judiciary II Committee members,

I learned late yesterday SB 2 had been put on the calendar for hearing today. It’s snowing in Guilford County and Schools are closed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend but I wanted to express a number of concerns I have with the bill, specifically regarding the Register of Deeds provisions. They are as follows:

1) A “sincerely held religious objection” is not defined. If a Catholic employee discovers an applicant is applying for a second marriage, can they file a religious objection based on this bill?

2) As a manager, Register of Deeds will be put on notice by their employee(s) regarding their religious objection (which is not defined). There is no due diligence or deliberation regarding this matter. The employee is given power, without question, to state the religious objection and immediately be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to ANY citizen. The employee is then given a six month free pass from performing their duties processing marriage licenses.

This can have a serious impact on our daily operations and undermines our role as managers of our offices. Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it over on the main site, here is John Cole’s excellent cartoon for February 2. It obviously speaks for itself. And if such images exposing the state leadership’s strange obsession with who people love appeal, be sure to check out Dwayne Powell’s cartoon this morning in Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled: “Skip that burger and get your Phil of religion-approved grub.”

 

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