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Legal Battle Over Marriage Continues in North Carolina

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Pro-family advocates are celebrating last week’s long-awaited and pivotal decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that upheld the marriage laws of four states. On November 6, the Sixth Circuit found constitutional the Marriage Protection Amendments of Tennessee, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky, determining that, “A dose of humility makes us hesitant to condemn as unconstitutionally irrational a view of marriage shared not long ago by every society in the world, shared by most, if not all, of our ancestors, and shared still today by a significant number of the states.” The Sixth Circuit is the first federal appeals court to uphold state marriage protection laws this year, which creates a “split” among the federal appeals courts on the issue and makes it more likely the Supreme Court will take up a marriage case.

Closer to home, attorneys for North Carolina legislative leaders officially filed notices of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on November 6 in two ongoing lawsuits involving a challenge to the state’s marriage laws (in the Fisher-Borne v. Smith, and Gerber v. Cooper lawsuits). In a statement, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said the appeal of a federal judge’s October injunction of North Carolina’s marriage protection laws “marks an important step in fulfilling our promise that the values of our state are defended and the voice of voters is heard.” Senator Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) intervened as defendants in the marriage lawsuits after Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office would no longer defend the state’s marriage laws.

While the legal battle for marriage makes its way back to the Supreme Court, concerns remain over the religious liberty implications of the court-ordered redefinition of marriage in North Carolina. On November 5, John Smith, Director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), defended an AOC memo that orders all magistrates in the state to perform same-sex union ceremonies or face the loss of their jobs. In a letter to Sen. Berger, Smith argued that, “the [AOC] memorandum accurately represented the responsibilities of judicial officials regarding same-sex marriages.” Smith was responding to an October 24 letter from 28 state senators that urged the AOC to revise its memo on the grounds that it possibly violates the constitutional rights of magistrates who cannot perform same-sex union ceremonies because of their religious beliefs about marriage. Several magistrates in North Carolina have already resigned over the issue, and Sen. Berger has pledged to introduce legislation in the 2015 legislative session aimed at protecting the religious liberty of magistrates and registers of deeds that decline to participate in same-sex union ceremonies.

Also on November 5, dozens of pastors held a “Religious Freedom Rally” at courthouse in Wilson, N.C., encouraging magistrates to not resign but to “stand up” against efforts to redefine marriage. According to ABC 11, rally organizer Pastor Donny Price said, “We have the obligation to stand up and stand behind these men and women and their position,” and that “we need to give them freedom of choice.”

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