Federal Lawsuit Challenges NC Marriage Opt-Out Law

Federal Lawsuit Challenges NC Marriage Opt-Out Law December 10, 2015

marriage-equality-meme-450x448After the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell, the state of North Carolina passed a law allowing public officials to opt out of having to perform same-sex weddings. That law is now being challenged by a group of plaintiffs, gay couples who have had a difficult time getting married as a result. This will be an interesting test of one of the peripheral issues surrounding gay marriage.

A North Carolina law that allows government officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages if they cite religious objections is unconstitutional and should be struck down, according to a federal lawsuit filed on Wednesday to challenge the measure.

The six plaintiffs, who include gay couples, argue the legislation allows magistrates and other officials who perform marriages to put their personal beliefs before their sworn constitutional duty.

“And the law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs,” said Luke Largess, a partner at the Charlotte-based law firm Tin Fulton Walker & Owen that filed the challenge. “That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment.”…

Supporters of the North Carolina law say it protects sincerely held religious beliefs while also ensuring officials are available in all jurisdictions to perform marriages. Magistrates who ask to opt out are barred from performing any marriage, gay or heterosexual, for six months.

Critics say the opt-out option discriminates against gay and lesbian couples. In one county, they said, all magistrates recused themselves, forcing public funds to be spent to bring in magistrates from elsewhere to marry local couples during short shifts.

So it sounds like they’re making an Establishment Clause argument rather than an equal protection argument. This will be interesting to watch.

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