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North Carolina sued for conscience protections for magistrates

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Three couples are suing the state of North Carolina over gay marriage discrimination that apparently isn’t happening.

The lawsuit targets protections for magistrates who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds and don’t want to be forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The state legislature passed the bill protecting religious convictions of state employees earlier this year, overriding a veto from Gov. Pat McCrory.

The bill outlines a process for magistrates to declare a religious objection to participating in same-sex unions. It requires government employees seeking an opt-out to recuse themselves from issuing marriage certificates for both heterosexual and homosexual couples for at least six months.

Three couples are now suing over potential discrimination. They say the bill places religious belief above the obligations of magistrates to carry out their duties.

“People are entitled to have their religious beliefs about marriage,” plaintiffs’ attorney Luke Largess said during a news conference in Charlotte, N.C. “But, the state can’t … pay for it.”

As of September, 5 percent of the state’s approximately 670 magistrates have filed recusal paperwork for protections under the new law. In McDowell County, all of the magistrates filed recusal paperwork, requiring the state to bus in magistrates from a nearby county to issue marriage certificates.

But the law’s supporters note no couple has been unable to marry because of magistrates’ objections.

“They [filed] a lawsuit based on a law they don’t like,” Tami Fitzgerald with the North Carolina Values Coalition told the ABC affiliate in Raleigh, N.C. She noted that critics “can’t point to one single case where a homosexual couple has been denied the right to get married.”

North Carolina’s gay marriage opt-out law is one of two in the country. It will be defended in court by Attorney General Roy Cooper, who has made it clear he doesn’t support the bill. Cooper is running for governor in upcoming elections.

— by Wayne Stender | BP

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