An N.C. Senate judiciary committee is scheduled today to consider a bill that would allow magistrates to opt out of presiding over marriages based on “sincerely held religious” objections. If the bill in its current form is passed, magistrates could opt out of providing marriage services for six-month periods if they object to same-sex marriages, as well as interracial and interfaith marriages.
The bill could allow more government officials to refuse to administer such unions, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which is opposing the bill. The bill would also allow registers of deeds to opt out of issuing marriage licenses to couples.
The lead sponsor of SB 2, Magistrates Recusal of Civil Ceremonies, is Sen. Phil Berger, president pro tempore, a Republican out of Eden.
“Religious freedom is one of our most valued liberties, but it should never be used as an excuse to deny government services to those who qualify, simply because of who they love,” said Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina, in a statement.
In its objection to the bill, the ACLU-NC cites a case from 1977, when two Forsyth County magistrates denied marriage services to an interracial couple based on religious objections. The couple successfully sued the magistrates in federal court.
North Carolina has recognized the freedom to marry for same-sex couples since October 2014, when two federal judges struck down the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples following several lawsuits.