In the first of many coming clashes between the legalization of same-sex unions and religious freedom, a North Carolina magistrate declined to perform a same-sex wedding ceremony Tuesday because doing so would violate his sincerely held religious beliefs. On October 14, Pasquotank County magistrate Gary Littleton cited his religious beliefs as the basis for refusing to perform a same-sex union ceremony for a male couple. Although the men found another local magistrate to perform the wedding ceremony, Littleton could potentially face charges for exercising his First Amendment right to religious liberty.
According to ABC 13 News , Chief District Court Judge Christopher Bean met with Pasquotank County magistrates about their duties regarding same-sex unions on Tuesday afternoon. “I suppose that it can be construed that he broke the law because…a duty that the magistrate has is to perform marriages,” Bean told reporters. “I think, though, you have to temper that a little bit with the confusion and the quickness of all of this.” On October 14, the NC Administrative Office of the Courts issued a guidance memo on same-sex unions that directs magistrates to “treat same-sex marriages for which a marriage license has been issued by the Register of Deeds the same way that marriages between a man and a woman are scheduled and conducted.” The memo warns that refusing to do so could result in “suspension,” “removal from office” or even criminal charges.
Littleton is not the only local North Carolina official struggling with the issue of same-sex unions. Alamance County Register of Deeds Hugh Webster told The Burlington Times that a local magistrate said that he would not perform same-sex union ceremonies, even at the cost of his job. Additionally, the newspaper reports that, “about half” of Webster’s employees in the Register of Deeds office “are uncomfortable filling out and accepting marriage licenses for same-sex couples.” Webster said he would issue the licenses for those employees who cite religious objections: “I’ve told my staff, ‘I’m not going to ask anyone to do something that runs against your raising.’ It goes against my raising, too, but I’ll do it.”
Additionally, on Thursday, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that a Rockingham County magistrate had resigned, because marrying same-sex couples would violate his religious beliefs. According to the report, Magistrate John Kallam Jr. sent a letter to Chief District Court Judge Fred Wilkins stating, “When I took my oath of office, I understood I would be required to perform weddings and have done so throughout my tenure. I did not, however, take that oath with any understanding that I would be required to marry same sex couples. It is my personal belief and a position of my Christian faith that doing so would desecrate a holy institution established by God himself.”
In a press release responding to the Pasquotank County incident, homosexual advocacy group, Equality NC, said it is “monitoring the situation” to ensure that all magistrates obey the law regardless of their religious beliefs, and that they “expect no less than full and equal access to marriage.”
Equality NC’s lack of tolerance for religious liberty is telling, since some groups have used religious freedom to argue in favor of same-sex unions. In a federal lawsuit in the Western District of North Carolina, a group of pro-homosexual religious leaders argued that the state’s marriage laws violated their religious beliefs by not allowing them to solemnize same-sex unions. Now that same-sex unions have been forced upon North Carolina by the courts, homosexual activists are unwilling to allow basic religious freedoms to the citizens of this State, including local officials, who believe that marriage is only between one man and one woman.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) issued a legal memorandum on October 16 to registers of deeds in North Carolinaentitled, “Rights of Conscience Pertaining to the Issuance of Marriage Licenses.” This document points to state and federal statutory and constitutional provisions protecting the religious liberty rights of registers of deeds who object to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The memo states in part, “Some registers of deeds might believe that they face a serious dilemma: either resign their positions or violate their sincerely held religious or moral beliefs about marriage by being forced to issue marriage licenses to relationships inconsistent with those beliefs. But registers of deeds, as explained herein, can resolve this potential conflict.”
ADF Senior Litigation Staff Counsel, Kellie Fiedorek, said, “No one in America should be forced to choose between following their conscience and serving his or her employer. The First Amendment protects the right to basic freedoms, including the freedom to live and work according to one’s conscience.”