As the North Carolina legislature considers a bill that would allow government officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages, the ACLU of North Carolina is drawing attention to an interracial couple who could not find an official to marry them in the 70s even after the Supreme Court had struck down state bans on miscegenation.
Almost 40 years after two Forsyth County magistrates refused to perform their civil marriage ceremony by citing religious objections, Thomas and Carol Ann Person, an interracial couple from North Carolina, are now speaking out against proposed legislation that would allow magistrates to refuse marriage services to any couple if they voice a religious objection…
“Nobody has a right to tell anyone who they can marry,” said Carol Ann. “I will never forget how painful it was to be told by government officials that they would not give Thomas and me a civil marriage ceremony because of the color of our skin. It was supposed to be a happy day, but instead we were turned away because of somebody else’s religious views and treated like second-class citizens. I hope those lawmakers in Raleigh stop Senate Bill 2 so that no other couple in North Carolina ever has to go through what we did when they want to marry the person they love.”
Thomas and Carol Ann, who are both legally blind, met in Raleigh and moved to Winston-Salem to work for the Industries for the Blind in the 1970s. Thomas proposed to Carol Ann in 1976, and the two eventually went to their local courthouse to receive a civil marriage ceremony. Instead, they were turned away by two magistrates who said their religious beliefs prohibited them from marrying a black man and a white woman. In 1977, a federal court ordered a magistrate to perform their marriage, and the two magistrates who originally refused were ordered to pay legal fees. The couple now lives in Robbins, North Carolina.
So would those who argue that government clerks should be allowed to refuse to perform a same-sex wedding also argue that they should be allowed to refuse to perform an interracial one? Or an interreligious one? And if so, where is the line drawn? We would have government officials refusing to apply the law equally to all citizens or residents, something that is clearly forbidden by the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It is the very essence of the concept of equality that the government cannot refuse to apply the law equally on everyone.