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Marriage Equality

Couples Challenge North Carolina's Antigay Marriage Law

Couples Challenge North Carolina's Antigay Marriage Law


Six couples demand the law allowing magistrates to opt-out of performing same-sex and other weddings be declared unconstitutional. 

North Carolina's law allowing state magistrates to refuse to perform marriages if they have a "sincerely held religious objection" -- including same-sex weddings -- is the target of a federal lawsuit filed this morning which claims the law violates equality and church-state provisions in the U.S. Constitution.

The law also protects court clerks who issue marriage licenses in North Carolina, reported the Associated Press.

According to blogger Matt Comer, six couples are suing to overturn the law, which passed in June over the veto of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. Currently, Utah is the only other state to provide religious-objection legal cover for court officials.

Lawyers representing the N.C. couples claimed in a statement that the law declared that magistrates's "religious beliefs are superior to their oath of judicial office to uphold and support the federal constitution. And the law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs," said Luke Largess, a partner at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and lead counsel in Ansley v. North Carolina. "That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment."

The A.P. reported about 5 percent of the state's roughly 670 magistrates had filed recusal paperwork as of September, according to the state court system.

The six plaintiffs include an interracial couple who were denied a marriage in 1976 in Forsyth County, according to Comer. The couple, Carol Ann Person and Thomas Person, were denied marriage services by two magistrates who believed interracial marriages violated their religious beliefs. Ultimately, a federal lawsuit ordered the magistrates to comply with the ruling in Loving v. Virginia which struck down interracial marriage bans.

The other plaintiffs are two lesbian couples: Diane Ansley (pictured above, left) and Cathy McGaughey (pictured above, right), whose prior federal lawsuit struck down the state's constitutional ban on marriage, Amendment One, in 2014; and Kelley Penn and Sonja Goodman, who intend to marry this spring.

In their lawsuit, their lawyers argue that the law "also orders the judicial system to pay retirement contributions to magistrates who quit in the wake of Amendment One being declared unconstitutional rather than marry gay and lesbian citizens."

Read the full lawsuit here.

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