NORTH CAROLINA: Another Attempt To Allow Officials To Duck Marriage Duties

Yesterday was the first day of North Carolina’s legislative session and already there’s an attempt to legalize the refusal to issue marriage licenses and conduct courthouse marriage ceremonies. But since they’d likely fail if they attempted to target only gay couples, the new bill is broader.

Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, filed a bill to allow magistrates to refuse to preside at same-sex weddings and assistant and deputy registers of deeds to not issue licenses based on “sincerely held religious objection.” But any such recusal must last at least six months, and the officials couldn’t be involved in traditional marriages either. “What we’re talking about is trying to protect or at least recognize and provide an accommodation for people who have sincerely held beliefs that are protected by the First Amendment,” Berger said in an interview with The Associated Press. “So what we’re trying to is find a balance.” Democratic lawmakers and the gay-rights group Equality North Carolina said at a news conference such a recusal measure is discrimination in disguise against gays and lesbians. Berger said requiring the exemption for all marriages ensures court officials aren’t picking and choosing whom they will wed. But Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said it doesn’t assuage the ulterior motive of bias and could lead to a slippery slope of court officials refusing all sorts of expected duties.

A separate bill to legalize anti-gay discrimination by businesses is expected to be introduced shortly.