RALEIGH, N.C. — Over 30 judges in North Carolina have opted out of officiating “gay weddings” following the passage of a bill that allows magistrates to decline because of their religious convictions.
According to reports, the state court system has received 32 notices from judges since the law took affect in June. The figure amounts to approximately five percent of the 670 judges in North Carolina.
As previously reported, S.B. 2 was introduced earlier this year by Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, to allow magistrates to recuse themselves from officiating over the services, as well as to permit register of deeds workers to opt out of issuing licenses due to religious objections. The bill comes with one condition: that the individual remove themselves from the marriage business altogether.
“Every magistrate has the right to recuse from performing all lawful marriages … based upon any sincerely held religious objection,” it reads in part. “Such recusal shall be upon notice to the chief district court judge and is in effect for at least six months from the time delivered to the chief district court judge.”
In February, the Senate voted 32-16 in favor of the bill, sending the matter on to the House, which likewise passed the measure 67-43.
But homosexual advocates in the state urged Republican Gov. Pat McCrory to veto the legislation, stating that judges shouldn’t have the right to decline to participate simply because of their religious convictions. McCrory, who was raised Presbyterian, did just that in late May.
“I recognize that for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said. “However, we are a nation and a state of laws.”
McCrory’s veto was subsequently overruled by a majority vote in the legislature.
“It’s the way employment law has worked for more than 50 years and it was only this misguided memo … that even started this issue,” declared Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake.
“I will not stand idly by and watch the demands of a few insist that a magistrate perform a wedding that he or she strongly believes to be immoral,” also stated Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, adding that the matter was instigated by those who think “that they know more than God.”
Berger, who also serves as Senate President Pro Tem, told reporters last week that the matter is likely preventing situations like the one in Kentucky—even though only on a judicial level. Kentucky has no law providing opt-outs for public officials.
“We provided an opportunity for folks who have strongly held religious views with objections to opt out, but we also provided a backstop,” he told local television station WRAL. “It’s keeping folks from having to choose between their job and their religious beliefs. I think that’s important.”
A similar law was also passed in Utah, allowing judges to exit the marriage business for religious reasons.