Lawsuit Challenges Gay Marriage Law in North Carolina

10 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Another step on the path to true equality.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Three couples filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging North Carolina’s law allowing officials to refuse to perform gay marriages based on their religious beliefs. A team of Charlotte lawyers whose lawsuit helped lead to the demise of North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage is now challenging a new state law that allows local officials to opt out of sworn duties on religious grounds.

Three same-sex North Carolina couples have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 2, which allows officials to exempt themselves from solemnizing or filing paperwork for any marriage to which they personally object. Their attorney says the state is violating the First Amendment and using taxpayer money to advance a religious point of view, and they want to strike down the law — one of only two in the country.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat who is running for governor next year, said his office will defend the state even those he personally opposes the legislation. Charlotte lawyers Jake Sussman and Luke Largess, whose arguments got the discriminatory Amendment One overturned last year, will file with others a complaint on behalf of three N.C. couples. North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature passed the law earlier this year as social conservatives nationwide pushed for so-called “religious freedom bills” in response to same-sex marriage becoming legal. The 20-page federal complaint accuses legislative leaders of passing a law that supports a specific religious view, defies court rulings that gay couples have a constitutional right to marriage, and of enabling magistrates and other officials to ignore their oaths to uphold the law. “Senate Bill 2 undermines the constitutional integrity of our judicial system,” Sussman said. “It empowers magistrates who abdicate their judicial obligation to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens as established by the Supreme Court and keeps in office those who believe as a matter of faith that gays and lesbians are not full citizens.” The law, passed by the General Assembly over Republican Gov.

District Judge Max Cogburn signed the order in a case filed by Sussman, Largess and Gresham that attacked the ban on religious and due-process grounds. Backers of the law say that it protects religious freedom and that government employees should be allowed religious accommodation if marrying same-sex couples runs counter to their beliefs. In Kentucky, county clerk Kim Davis was jailed for five days in September after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the grounds that doing so would violate her religious beliefs.

That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment.” The law allows magistrates with religious objections to stop performing marriages of all types for at least six months. In McDowell County, in the western part of the state, all magistrates have declared exemptions, and taxpayer funds are being used to bring in magistrates from surrounding counties for short periods of time, during which county residents can be married. “SB2 is unconstitutional and does not represent the values of inclusion on which North Carolina was built,” Chris Sgro, the executive director of Equality North Carolina, said in a statement. “It targets same-sex couples directly for discrimination and in the process also restricts access to taxpayer-funded government services for all North Carolinians.” “This law distorts the true meaning of religious freedom,” added Rev. They shouldn’t be able to select out of part of their job.” The lawsuit alleges that the legislation was introduced merely to circumvent federal court rulings last year that struck down North Carolina’s statutory and constitutional prohibitions against same-sex marriage.

The law provides that if all the magistrates in a county opt out, the state shall send replacement magistrates from another county to ensure that marriages are performed. The law also provides that any magistrate who resigned because of religious beliefs and then was reappointed within 90 days of Senate Bill 2’s passage would receive credit toward retirement for that gap in service. The state’s top court administrator said at the time magistrates who declined to officiate for same-sex couples could be fired or face potential criminal charges.

The third couple, a white woman and black man, successfully sued in the mid-1970s when Forsyth County magistrates refused to marry them on religious grounds, according to the lawsuit. Sussman and Largess also point out that gay residents could face magistrates for any number of civil and criminal matters, and would know their cases are being handled by someone who believes they are not accorded the same constitutional protections as straight constituents.

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