A federal judge in North Carolina issued a very wrongheaded ruling in a case involving whether the state could force a magistrate judge to perform same-sex marriages now that they are legal nationwide. The clerk who filed the case has a column in the Washington Post making bad arguments on her own behalf.
When same-sex marriage became legal in North Carolina after a 2014 court case, I didn’t want to stop anyone from getting lawfully married. I understood that same-sex marriage had become the law of the land. But I also knew that my religious beliefs prevented me from performing a same-sex wedding ceremony. Because handling weddings amounted to only about 5 percent of my work, I hoped there was a way to keep the job I loved without inconveniencing others.
My direct supervisor came up with a simple solution. She would change my schedule so that I was not on duty during the hours our office officiated weddings. My fellow magistrates were happy to cover for me, just as I had covered for them on many occasions. This would allow anyone to get married without inconvenience or embarrassment. This was not a big deal: In our courthouse in Union County, my colleagues and I often shifted around our schedules for things as simple as fishing trips or as important as night classes or drug rehab.
But the state government rejected this solution and made clear that I had to choose between my faith and my job. I was told that if I did not perform same-sex weddings, I would be subject to civil penalties and criminal prosecution. Facing this choice, I was forced to resign in 2014. I lost the job that I loved, one I’d held for five years, and my retirement that would have vested in just two months.
You can take her entire column and replace “same-sex marriage” with “interracial marriage” and virtually no one would agree that a government official can refuse to do their job with respect to such marriages and keep their job. But legally, there’s no distinction. The government — that is, the people charged with carrying out government policy — is required to apply the law equally, full stop.
She can no more refuse to perform that marriage than a Muslim DMV clerk could refuse to issue driver’s licenses to women because his “sincerely held religious beliefs” say that women shouldn’t drive. And the fact that someone else in the office might issue them is completely irrelevant. Government officials do not get to pick and choose which laws they will apply equally and which they won’t. The district court judge in this case got it completely wrong and he will hopefully be overturned on appeal.