Mark Chilton, the likely new Register of Deeds in Orange County, N.C., says he plans to ignore the state's constitutional ban on marriage equality and begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples if he's elected.
Chilton, a former mayor of Carrboro, N.C., secured the Democratic nomination for the position by defeating two other candidates in the primary earlier this week, and will therefore seek the Register of Deeds seat unopposed in his heavily Democratic district.
And if he's elected on November 2 to serve as the Register of Deeds — the position which governs the issuance of marriage licenses — he plans to accept applications from and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, he told MSNBC's Ari Melber Thursday.
"I'm a legal scholar as well as a real-estate attorney," said Chilton Thursday. "And after reading all of the cases that are involved with same-sex marriage that have come down from the federal courts, it seems very clear to me that North Carolina's state constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage is definitely contrary to the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."
Chilton noted that the North Carolina Constitution, in its oath of office, defines the primary duty of the Register of Deeds as being to uphold the U.S. Constitution. And when it comes to equal rights, Chilton believes the U.S. Constitution trumps the state constitution, requiring him to violate state law in order to uphold federal law. Doing so could result in misdemeanor charges or being removed from office, notes the Hillsboro News Observer, though Chilton told MSNBC that he would abide by any "competent court order" that demanded he stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Up until that hypothetical verdict comes down, however, Chilton plans to grant marriage licenses to any committed couples who meet the other legal requirements to enter into a marriage, regardless of gender.
If elected, Chilton would become the second North Carolina official to accept marriage applications from same-sex couples, in defiance of the state's 2012 voter-approved constitutional ban on marriage equality. In February, two same-sex couples who were legally married in other states successfully registered their marriages with the Register of Deeds in Buncombe County, N.C., as part of the Campaign for Southern Equality's We Do Campaign, which looks to raise awareness about marriage inequality and press toward equal treatment for southern same-sex couples.
North Carolina's marriage inequality ban is also facing three legal challenges looking to strike down the law, according to advocacy group Freedom to Marry. Two of those cases were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of married same-sex couples seeking recognition of their out-of-state marriages in order to access crucial medical benefits for spouses and children who are critically ill. The third case was filed last month by a group of clergy members associated with United Church of Christ, who argue that North Carolina's antimarriage-equality amendment infringes on their religious freedom, since they want to be able to perform same-sex marriages within the church, but are prohibited from doing so by the state constitution.
Watch Chilton's discuss his plans to violate state law to fight for equality in MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell Thursday below.