ACLU Says N.C. Law Puts Your Freedom to Marry in Jeopardy

A new North Carolina law aiming to protect court officials’ religious freedoms may create a stumbling block for not only same-sex couples wanting to marry, but all couples who want to get hitched.

Senate Bill 2 became law earlier this month, allowing magistrates to recuse themselves from performing marriages, and assistant and deputy registers of deeds to choose not to issue marriage licenses. Though the law does not specifically reference same-sex marriage, LGBT advocates say the move clearly targets gay couples.

“The timing of SB2’s introduction, on the first day our legislature introduced bills after court rulings invalidating our state ban on the freedom to marry — as well as comments from its legislative supporters — make plain the measure was motivated by marriage equality coming to North Carolina,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.

The legislature is out of step with North Carolinians in its efforts to stigmatize our gay and lesbian family, friends, and neighbors.
Chris Brook, ACLU of North Carolina
Officials who take advantage of the law are required to abstain from performing all marriage-related duties for six months. Only time will tell whether or not this will cause problems for those seeking to marry.

“We will know in the coming weeks how serious a hurdle SB2 represents to the freedom to marry in North Carolina,” Brook said. “SB2 states that a minimum of 10 hours must be provided for couples, be they opposite or same-sex, to access civil marriage services in each county. However, some smaller counties in our state have as few as three magistrates (the judicial officials responsible for conducting civil marriages) for the entire county. If any magistrate recuses himself or herself in these smaller counties, then it could stretch limited resources to the breaking point.”

Even if the law doesn’t create a practical hurdle, some advocates say the symbolism behind it is a problem.

“We have not seen a shutdown a la what happened in Alabama awhile back,” said Brian Goldsmith, a board member of Catawba Valley Pride. “While this is not a major road block, discrimination is unacceptable.”

As well as being problematic from a legal standpoint, it’s out of step with state residents, Brook said.

“The legislature is out of step with North Carolinians in its efforts to stigmatize our gay and lesbian family, friends, and neighbors,” he said. “Poll after poll indicates record-high support for LGBT equality — including the freedom to marry — in North Carolina, flying in the face of the legislature’s repeated efforts to enshrine discrimination into law.”

If legislators don’t recognize that sooner rather than later, it could be to their detriment, Goldsmith said.

“I think that the world is changing faster than the backers of this bill realize, and some of them might pay with their jobs come next election,” he said.