NORTH CAROLINA: Appeals Court Rejects Challenge To Law Allowing Officials To Refuse Same-Sex Weddings

Raleigh’s NBC affiliate reports:

A federal appeals court has rejected a challenge to a North Carolina law that allows magistrates to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling on Wednesday that three couples who sued to overturn the law lack standing to challenge the law’s use of taxpayer funds.

Two gay couples and one interracial couple argued that the state was improperly using their tax dollars to accommodate magistrates’ religious views, but a federal judge last year said none of the couples had been harmed by the law, so they couldn’t challenge it. The 4th Circuit likewise found that the couples didn’t meet narrow criteria for challenging the law as taxpayers.

From the Campaign For Southern Equality:

A three-judge panel from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that plaintiffs in Ansley v. Warren, the federal lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 2, do not have standing to challenge the law. “We are reviewing the court’s opinion published this morning and will make a decision about whether to pursue any further appeals, either to the full 4th Circuit or to the Supreme Court,” says Luke Largess, a partner at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and lead counsel in Ansley v. Warren.

“SB2 is unjust and distorts the true meaning of religious freedom. 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,” says Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.

The law was signed by former Gov. Pat McCrory in 2015 after the Obergefell ruling was issued. Only about 5% of North Carolina magistrates and public officials have thus far refused to serve same-sex couples.

  • Wait. So now they can discriminate?

    • Todd20036

      Yup, because Jesus

    • nocadrummer

      There has to be a couple who can prove some sort of standing to bring this case. Perhaps a couple who live in an area with no magistrate(s) willing to work with them, who may have significant difficulties getting to another city or county (e.g. physical disabilities) would be more likely to get a case brought about.

    • John30013

      If I recall correctly, they (NC magistrate judges, who are the “beneficiaries” of this law) must recuse themselves in writing from performing *all* marriages (for 6 months at a time). I believe the law was written this way specifically to avoid charges of religion-based discrimination.

  • bkmn

    Not good news but hopefully they can find someone who has been refused and take the case all the way up to SCOTUS.

    • Jonathan Smith

      shit, I’ll walk down there and marry the first guy i see if i thought it would help

      • Gustav2

        First make sure he has a job.

        • Treant

          In NC, having a meth lab counts.

          • Jonathan Smith

            damn. i had that down as a job.

  • Boreal

    OT:
    “For obscure parliamentary reasons, Republicans can’t move on with the
    rest of their wish list until they pass the health-care bill. And those
    prospects are not looking good.”

    The Entire Trump Agenda Is at a Tipping Point
    http://www.newyorker.com/news/ryan-lizza/the-entire-trump-agenda-is-at-a-tipping-point

    • Ernest Endevor

      Their entire agenda consists of massive tax cuts for billionaires. Unless they make those cuts first in the so-called health-care bill, because of the requirement to make tax cuts budget neutral, they will ‘sunset’ in ten (?) and will have to be re-legislated If the cuts can be made via reconciliation they will be permanent. And that’s all any of this is about: robbing Medicaid to give the money to billionaires.

      Because billionaires front the money needed to keep the Republican party going. So the more money they’ve got the more money Republicans get.

    • Gustav2

      “Reconciliation” is a bitch!

    • Treant

      Thoughts and prayers. Maybe you shouldn’t invoke reconciliation until you’re sure you have the votes, Mitch? Too hard for you?

      What the hard core Republicans are failing to note is that most other politicians are watching Trump’s approval rating slide and the Russian crisis get constantly worse. They see where this is going and they’re not thrilled to be tied to Trump legislation.

    • Butch

      Here’s the problem: The tools McConnell has now at his disposal to modify the health care bill are more likely to appeal to the hard-core conservatives than to the moderates, so expect the eventual bill to be much worse, not better.

      • Boreal

        I’m crossing my fingers that they won’t be able to pull it together.

        • John30013

          I that vein, we all need to call our senators and expressed our opposition to the healthcare bill. Even if (like me) both senators are Trump-backing GOP goons. A lot more senators came out against the bill once McConnell announced he was delaying the vote. We need to keep the pressure on by calling their offices, since most of the chicken-shit snowflakes will avoid facing their constituents over the summer recess.

          • NedFlaherty

            I regularly contact the 15 senators (at each of their offices) who are most movable on Trumpcare.

            I make different arguments each time, but the most dramatic closing — which always gets rigid staff attention — is this: “If you vote for Trumpcare, my family will work diligently to replace you.”

            The best way to place lots of calls quickly is simplify your message into 1-2 sentences, and then call before 8:00 a.m. or after 6:00 p.m., because off-hours callers get connected instantly to voice mail, and avoid all the staff interviews.

        • I’m Canadian. We are a capitalist society that has social health care – same for most of Europe.

          • Boreal

            We know. We just live in a backwards country with rubes, who no happen to run the country.

          • JCF

            My local NPR affiliate did a story about ObamaCare in the rural, Red parts of the State (California). They talked to a guy who has (by his own admission) benefitted from both Medicaid (“MediCal”) and the State’s exchange (“Covered California”). But what does he think of ObamaCare? You guessed it: HATES it. Why? “Heh-heh, because of Obama! ‘Nuff said.”

            Tell me again how the Drumpfian Deplorables aren’t just garden-variety RACISTS.

            [But again: you say “F_ck ’em, take away their Medicaid!”, you take away MY MEDICAID, too. And I’d rather y’all not kill me.]

      • JCF

        McConnell’s 50 (+ Pence) majority presupposes the hardcore conservatives. If Heller, Collins & Merkowski vote No, it’s dead.

    • clay

      [bad link?]

    • 2patricius2

      A friend posted on Facebook, that Chuck Schumer’s office says they are not seeing the kind of response to the Republican Senate “health” bill they saw to the House bill. A lot more people need to flood the offices of their Republican senators with opposition to the bill. (As we know from the experience with the House – they may well pass the bill after some more wheeling and dealing, if there is not enough public outcry against the bill when it actually does come up for a vote.)

    • Mike__in_Houston

      I wouldn’t consider this issue to be over yet. Turtleman, as Yosemite Sam would say, “ain’t a-giving up that easily.” I’m counting on all kinds of trade-offs happening after the Senate reconvenes. It happened in the House and it’s going to be at least attempted in the Senate.

      It’s even rumored that the Senators really didn’t try that hard to pass it before the recess, so they wouldn’t have to be in fear of their constituents while at home the next few days.

      Speaking of which, have y’all seen the clever and delightful video put together by opponents of the Senate health care plan in South Carolina targeting SC Senators Tim Scott (51 years old and unmarried) and Lindseybelle (61 years old and unmarried). I saw it on Rachel last night:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgRWU6u4xU4

      Not being up on pop culture, I don’t have a clue who Bruno Mars is but I enjoyed the video all the same…

    • UrsusArctos

      Nothing obscure here. They need to free up money being spent on senseless things (like healthcare for the middle class and poor) in order to make tax cuts for the 0.001% and eliminate the inheritance tax.
      How else are we going to solidify generational wealth? We’ll NEVER get back to feudalism if we don’t concentrate the wealth in fewer hands over the long term. /snark

  • Michael

    I have a mixed bag of emotions here. It would be one thing if we had the president, congress, etc, on our side but we are quickly losing ground here. We need to pick and choose our battles and this is not one of them.

    • The Milkman

      Agreed, but this is exactly the battle that we need to win. This isn’t about magistrates refusing to perform their duties, or bakers refusing to provide cakes, or wedding venues refusing to cater to same-sex events. It’s about where one person’s religious convictions end and another person’s civil liberties begin. Yes, Obergefell was a monumental decision. But assuming the right case hits the Supreme Court, the outcome will be without a doubt the most important LGBT-related legal decision we’ll see in our lifetimes, and will affect all the other cases that deal with every facet of our engagement in public life… weddings, employment, housing, parenting, hate crimes, civil rights laws, equal accommodations laws… everything.

      That said, I fear for what this SCOTUS will do with a case like this. Maybe my trepidation is unfounded, but I’d hate to get out over our skis on this one. If we lose, it’ll embolden the worst bigotry imaginable, and will set our push for equality back for generations. We will need the best legal minds to fight this one.

  • Sam_Handwich

    i don’t know why lawsuits like this are filed to begin with. to sue in federal court you have to demonstrate some form of direct injury, or imminent threat thereof

    • Ranger One

      Yea, advocates have to have real injured parties for the court to have jurisdiction. It makes us look bad when we bring hypothetical controversies.

      • Menergy

        The law firm/attorneys should know the requirements for standing and how to successfully file suit and litigate, don’t ya think? ( directed out as a comment about filing requirements, not a snark against you, Ranger One)

    • The_Wretched

      At court, you can challenge a law “as applied” or “on its face.” Federal vs State isn’t really at issue. The current conservative nutjobs on SCT have had a number of rulings that make ‘on its face’ challenges much harder to bring. Historically, the harms or injury weren’t hard to show. It was enough to say “im gay and want to marry and laws like this will make that harder.”

    • Dazzer

      I think it’s an incremental PR thing.

      We follow this news, but most people don’t.

      All the majority of people will do is scan the headlines and see that discrimination is still allowed against LGBT people. People who are delighted with discrimination will be happy – but people with a sense of fairness and justice will be offended.

      To me, it looks like a bit of a long-term game-plan thing.

    • EdA

      Of course, and sadly, the reactionary injustices on the Supreme Court keep making it harder for human Americans to prove standing. (For corporations “not so much” and for them hypotheticals can be OK). Which means that actual victims should be the plaintiffs. It is worse than useless to have good cases thrown out for lack of standing because what is remembered is THAT the case was thrown out, not why.

    • ChrisMorley

      Sometimes campaigners feel compelled to file these attempts. The law entrenches discrimination and needs dismantling on principle.
      It is difficult to find any toehold of legal standing in this case since the law allows bigoted magistrates to simply opt out of officiating at LGBT weddings, so they don’t ever have to turn down any LGBT couples.

      It’s a war of attrition – win some, lose some, but never leave a bad law uncontested. Resist.

    • david fairfield

      We need a couple to go in for license and be turned away. Any volunteers? Then we can make this work….

    • LarryChemEngr

      I was wondering exactly the same thing. Can a lawyer out there explain how there may be some advantages to us to pursue a case where we plainly lack standing? This happens over and over again.

      • Jared

        lawyer here. but stumped on that one. don’t see any upshot to it in a case like this one. was thinking might be to get misleading headlines that make ppl think their constitutionally-mandated marriage rights are at risk, thereby prompting more action and donation$ to LGBTQ interest groups. but that can’t be it. that may well end up being an incidental upshot here, but if you’re a lawyer, and you’re about to file a federal action suing someone else in open court, you wouldn’t do so knowing that you have to lose on standing grounds. you just wouldn’t. might even think twice about whether it’d violate your professional ethics obligations or the civil procedural rules (“rule 11”), and thinking twice alone would be enough to quash the idea.

        maybe, as in mayyyyyyyyybe, something like that could happen under circumstances where there simply are no plaintiffs in existence that could possibly have standing to sue over a very bad law, and literally the only way to fight it would be to sue anyway and then have that fight over standing to ask the court to find some new exception or rule or doctrine that would move the ball a bit on the otherwise established rules governing standing questions. but that was not the case here.

  • teedofftaxpayer

    We need to win the “wedding cake baker” ruling in the Supreme Court to put a stop to this BS.

    • John30013

      Frankly, I’m worried about that one, even if Kennedy stays on the court next term (which he’s said he would).

      • Oshtur

        it’s all in the framing of the case. it needs to be shown to be religious prejudice against the beliefs of the customer.

        • Hank

          However, I believe he is claiming, that he is an “ARTIST” and his cakes are Freedom of Speech expressions!

          • coram nobis

            Or it may focus on the difference between performing for services as opposed to selling goods. I’m just waiting for a case where a lap dancer refuses to work at a wedding because of her religious scruples.

        • KnownDonorDad

          It needs to be framed for what it is, religious prejudice against the identity of the customer.

          • Oshtur

            Well in all ways the customer is prejudice against them. All it takes to neutralize their assertion of “I’m a Southern Baptist and think same séx marriage is a sin” is for the customer to reply “Well I’m a Lutheran and think marriage regardless of the couple’s sexes is a blessing”. The courts constitutionally can not put one citizen’s religious rights above another and will then ask the business owner “If you can’t serve people of all faiths why are you advertising to the public?”

          • stevenj

            The reply, “Well I’m a Lutheran…” in this case would not have gotten the gay couple the cake they wanted for their wedding. And this is in a state that has a state statute forbidding (sexual orientation) discrimination in public accommodations (including services). The framing is already in place. The lower courts already ruled that the cake baker violated the state anti discrimination statute (denial of service based on the couple’s sexual orientation). The couple also maintains that their sex (both males) was used as a reason to deny service. This case could have enormous implications on LGBT people and public accommodations. And state’s rights.

          • Oshtur

            Actually it would have, the only reason these cases were being decided with the ‘sexual orientation’ ruling was to keep them state side. Now that they are federal the big guns of competing religious freedom rights need to be brought out.

            They might say that religious freedom trumps civil rights laws, but they can’t say it trumps another citizen’s religious freedom – there literally can’t be a law that even allows that to happen.

          • stevenj

            I don’t think this case is about the religious rights (of the same sex couple that was denied service) according to the couple or the baker’s countersuit. The scenario you present could frame another case though where one person’s religion is pitted against another (Christian will not bake cake for Jewish bar mitzvah celebration).

          • Oshtur

            Well obviously the customer’s beliefs include same-séx marriages it is unfortunate that no one has emphasized that there were multiple civil rights infractions going on.

            If this heads south I would be more than happy to be the person to walk in and assert my right to religious freedom as a customer.

          • stevenj

            The lower courts that ruled against the baker believed he did violate the couple’s civil rights based on the state’s anti discrimination statutes so that would seem to have been acknowledged.

          • JCF

            Yup. It’s all back to the “Identity” vs “Behavior” thing. Look, same-sex marriage is just what gay people do. If you discriminate against same-sex marriage, you discriminate against gay (and lesbian and/or bisexual) people. Period. Full-Stop. End of discussion. [Unconstitutional!!!!]

      • teedofftaxpayer

        If they allow the baker to discriminate that will open a whole can of worms. Not just against LGBTQ but all kinds of other discrimination. I don’t think they’ll allow it to happen. Some one might even ask if they serve divorcees. It will be a “cherry pick” discrimination.

        • stevenj

          The Colorado State Supreme Court refused the case. Hopefully SCOTUS will too.

          • teedofftaxpayer

            The Supreme Court has agreed to hear it in the fall session. So it will go before them. They just recently ruled in favor of same sex couples in regards to names on birth certificates for their kids. So there is some hope.

  • jvc in NYC

    Best policy, just avoid N Carolina altogether.

  • JWC

    Chip chip chippin away

  • mattkorey

    Good grief, why in the world are people saying that this lawsuit should not have been filed?
    Can you imagine if Christian magistrates said they wouldn’t marry Jews because it offended their religious sensibilities, or however they put it?
    After all, the Jewish people could just go find another magistrate who isn’t as crazy, who would actually marry them, so, you know, they suffered no injury.
    That is stupid and ridiculous and so is this. Same issue. A lawsuit should be filed in every one of these instances. You simply cannot let this bigotry go unopposed. Win or lose, fight this idiocy. Every time.

    • UrsusArctos

      The difference is that jews/muslims/people of color are protected classes under federal law. Unless there’s a state anti-discrimination law, there is no standing. That’s why ENDA was/is so important. 53% of us live in places where there’s no need for this law or things like MS HB 1523 and discrimination is perfectly legal (21 states).

      • mattkorey

        Indeed, but lawsuits like this shine a light on that sort of difference in the law, as it pertains to protected classes. I think that is worth something worth doing.

  • -M-

    They’re being taxed to pay for magistrates refusing to do their whole job. And for the state government acting in their name to insult their fellow citizens and engage in religious discrimination. That’s harm.

  • Lars Littlefield

    Bummer, dude.

  • Hank

    “We will keep standing up to discrimination until LGBTQ North Carolinians are equal in every sphere of life,” It will not happen, until the Rethuglicans are voted OUT of Control of the State Houses, which with their gerrymandering and Voter Rights laws will not happen soon!

  • The 5% need to choose between their religion and the law of the land.

  • FormerMainer

    When you are hired to a job, you need to do it.

  • FredDorner

    Laws like this are difficult to challenge since the bigoted magistrate has to stop performing marriages altogether. But one way might be to publicize the names of magistrates who do that and state that they’ve become a burden on the taxpayer by refusing to do their full job and refusing to serve all citizens without bias.

  • JCF

    This is BULLSHIT! >:-(

  • Jared

    i love you joe, but we all need to do a better job with headlines. the constitutional right to marriage no matter who you are or who you love is not at risk. it’s here to stay. or at least this particular case poses no threat to it whatsoever, and the ppl who are most likely to read only the headline and not the article are exactly the same same ppl who will take this headline to mean that the right to marriage is now at risk.
    this was just a stupid “standing” case, not a same-sex marriage rights case