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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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Commentary

Greensboro News & Record columnist Susan Ladd does a great job of skewering state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s ridiculous “religious freedom” for magistrates legislation today in this essay.

“It’s appalling that the first order of business for our state legislature would be to reinstate Jim Crow. Or should we call it James Crow? Jane Crow? Jim Crow 2.0?

Discrimination by any name smells just as sour.

But discrimination is precisely what the bill introduced Wednesday by state Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) allows. Currently titled the Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies, the bill falls under the general heading of “religious freedom” laws sweeping the country after the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states.”

She goes on:

“Though this bill is narrower in scope than ‘religious freedom’ laws that have been attempted in other states, it still legislates discrimination and limits the rights of groups that could be targeted by a religious objection….

Because this bill doesn’t specify, however, magistrates presumably would be free to recuse themselves from performing other marriages that violated their religious beliefs. Religion is a very malleable thing, having been used to object to all kinds of practices. But let’s take an obvious case.

A magistrate opposed to interracial marriage simply could cite the passage used by the Virginia circuit court judge in 1959, when he convicted Richard and Mildred Loving of the crime of interracial marriage.”

Here’s the excellent conclusion:

Read More

Commentary

Gay prideThe closed-door meeting to discuss the new “religious freedom” bill has been postponed, according to an email sent out by the North Carolina Values Coalition. The organization claims that they received an “overwhelmingly positive” response to the meeting and have had to reschedule out of concern that the facility could not accommodate the crowd.

Unfortunately, postponement of the meeting will be unlikely to slow down the momentum of the “religious freedom” crusade. This morning, Senate leader Phil Berger introduced a “religious freedom” bill allowing magistrates and registers of deeds to be exempt from performing their duties if it violates their religious beliefs.

The bill attempts to be impartial on its face. It allows magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from their duties if they are asked to perform an act that goes against their religious beliefs but then also prevents them from performing any of their duties for the following six month period. In other words, they won’t be allowed to pick and choose which marriages to perform. The bill adds that there must be a magistrate available to perform marriages for at least ten hours a week over three business days. While all this may seem fair in theory, the reality is that, in many places in North Carolina, finding a magistrate willing to perform same-sex marriages and a register of deeds willing to sign the marriage license under such circumstances could be difficult. Adding to the burden for couples, will be trying to get in during the small window of time three days a week that these officials will be available. The overall result will be that LGBT couples will have a much harder time getting married if this bill is passed—the exact effect that was intended.

The North Carolina Values Coalition has indicated that they plan to seek much broader anti-LGBT legislation, than this bill. On the other side, Equality NC has also indicated that they fear additional legislation that will provide a broader license to discriminate.

The absurdity of the bill itself was pointed out by State Senator Jeff Jackson, during Equality NC’s press conference held today in anticipation of the bill’s introduction and the legislative briefing originally scheduled for this afternoon. As Jackson rightly observed, “in this nation, we don’t have to pass any government employee’s personal religious test in order to receive government service.” Apparently, Senator Berger missed that lesson in civics.

Commentary

marriage amendmentAccording to news reports, Representative Paul Stam will hold some kind of legislative “briefing” tomorrow on a “religious freedom” bill that would permit magistrates and other state employees to deny same-sex couples marriage licenses if it violates their own religious beliefs.

This is an enormously troubling idea.

From a legal standpoint, permitting state employees to refuse to perform the duties of their job based on their faith opens the door to all sorts of potentially absurd new practices. There are many religions out there with many different beliefs, including some that are contrary to our state laws or policies. Are we now saying that a person’s individual, albeit sincerely-held, beliefs take precedence over the duties of their job? Can an EMT refuse to provide medical treatment to a member of the LGBT community because their lifestyle violates her religious beliefs? If a police officer, whose religion beliefs include the right of a man to discipline his wife, witnesses domestic abuse while on the job, can he choose not to arrest the husband? We’re heading down a very slippery slope with this bill.

But let’s think about this bill itself, which Stam claims is intended to defend religious freedom. The irony of this, of course, Read More