A measure that would protect certain public servants in North Carolina from being forced to perform or issue licenses for same-sex union ceremonies in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs was introduced in the State Senate today. Filed by Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), S2-Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies would establish a legal right: (1) allowing magistrates to recuse themselves from performing marriage ceremonies, and (2) allowing assistant registers of deeds and deputy registers of deeds to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses, as long as the recusal is “based upon any sincerely held religious objection.” The bill would also shield these individuals from punishment or disciplinary action for failing to discharge their duties, if the recusal is made in “good-faith.”
S2 became necessary after federal court rulings forced the State of North Carolina to legally recognize same-sex unions and begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples last fall. Subsequently, a number of magistrates resigned their posts in order to avoid violating their deeply held religious beliefs by being forced to participate in same-sex union ceremonies.
Senator Berger has expressed an ongoing commitment to address this issue, and he spoke about the purpose of the bill in a January 28 press release. “While the courts have expanded of the freedoms of some, we must not ignore the constitutionally-protected rights of others.” Berger said. “This bill offers a reasonable solution to protect the First Amendment rights of magistrates and register of deeds employees while complying with the marriage law ordered by the courts – so they are not forced to abandon their religious beliefs to save their jobs.”