Raleigh, N.C. – The North Carolina Senate passed bipartisan legislation Wednesday to protect the First Amendment rights – and jobs – of magistrates and registers of deeds’ employees whose participation in marriage ceremonies would violate their core religious beliefs.
“While activist courts have trampled North Carolina voters’ definition of marriage, we have to comply with their orders until the U.S. Supreme Court settles the issue. This bill preserves the ability of everyone who is legally eligible to get married,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham.) “But while the courts have taken steps to provide special rights to some, we must not ignore the constitutionally-protected rights of others.”
Senate Bill 2 makes clear that magistrates and registers of deeds’ employees with religious objections have the right to recuse themselves from performing all marriages without fear of losing their jobs or facing criminal prosecution. Those officials may not pick and choose which marriages to perform. And the bill tasks the top elected officials in local court districts – including chief district judges and registers of deeds – with developing plans to ensure recent federal court orders on marriage are carried out.
Berger filed the legislation in response to recent events in his home county and in communities across the state. In October, a longtime Rockingham County magistrate was forced to resign from his job when, after making multiple suggestions for alternate assignments and offering to work the night shift, he was told by a supervising judge that no accommodation would be made for his constitutionally protected religious beliefs.
The incident was just one of several reports of magistrates across North Carolina leaving their jobs rather than compromise their religious beliefs – a problem worsened by the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts’ failure to provide guidance on existing federal and state protections afforded to them.
Under the bill, any magistrates who resigned or lost their jobs as a result of this issue are also allowed to reapply for vacant positions.