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The Daily Tar Heel

Lawsuit dismissed against marriage refusal law for magistrates

SB2 was passed in June 2015, and allows magistrates to refuse to marry couples if it intrudes on their religious beliefs. If all the magistrates of a county exempt themselves, a magistrate would be brought in with the use of taxpayer dollars to conduct the marriage.

The six plaintiffs, which included couples of both interracial and LGBT identities, filed a complaint against the bill arguing taxpayers’ dollars should not be used.

“You can’t use taxpayers’ money to uphold a religious point of view,” said Luke Largess, a Charlotte-based lawyer, on the lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn dismissed the complaint, ruling the plaintiffs lacked standing because they were not harmed directly by the law.

“Federal courts never recognized standing by taxpayers,” said Robert Orr, an adjunct professor at the UNC School of Law. “In the federal courts you cannot say your only injury is of a taxpayer — there has to be actual direct harm.”

The six couples were not denied the right to get married, but a magistrate of their county refused to perform their marriage, and they were therefore not harmed or impeded from marrying, said Orr.

“The judge was right based on the precedent of the federal court,” he said.

Couples who come before a magistrate for marriage will not know beforehand if the magistrate will perform their marriage duties because the magistrate’s previous decisions are not public record, Largess said.

“SB2 clearly originated in people being opposed to marriage in same-sex couples and trying to find a new way to condemn same-sex couples,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, which supported the lawsuit.

Kay Diane Ansley and Catherine McGaughey of McDowell County, two of the plantiffs, were married four days after North Carolina’s Amendment One was ruled unconstitutional.

Kelley Penn and Sonja Goodman of Swain County, two other plaintiffs, are engaged.

Carol Ann and Thomas Roger Person of Moore County, a legally blind, interracial couple as well as the remaining plaintiffs, tried to marry in 1976, but were refused by two magistrates, said Largess. Since then, a federal court ruling found the magistrates violated their 14th Amendment rights.

“This lawsuit isn’t drawing as much attention as HB2, but it’s the same thing,” said Largess, “It’s legalizing discrimination.”


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