You swore an oath; uphold it

The Observer editorial board

Dozens of gay couples waited last October at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office to get marriage licenses.
Dozens of gay couples waited last October at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office to get marriage licenses. dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Magistrates in North Carolina take two oaths when they are sworn into office.

“I, (state your name), do solemnly and sincerely swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States,” they say in the first oath.

“I, (state your name), do solemnly swear that I will administer justice without favoritism to anyone or to the State; … and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties (of the job) to the best of my ability…” they say in the second.

The courts have ruled that the U.S. Constitution makes gay marriage legal in North Carolina. And performing marriages is one of the duties of the magistrate’s job. Magistrates who refuse to perform a legal marriage are violating both of their oaths of office.

The House Judiciary Committee meets Wednesday to consider changing that. The panel is scheduled to take up Senate Bill 2, which allows magistrates and assistant registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing marriages “based upon any sincerely held religious objection.”

The bill legalizes discrimination. It is a last-gasp response to a long string of court rulings giving equal rights to same-sex partners that will likely culminate in a similar Supreme Court ruling this summer.

Religious freedom, of course, is one of the bedrock principles upon which the country was founded. That does not give each civil servant the right to serve some citizens and not others. People who cannot fulfill the duties of a job need to find a different job.

It is not fanciful to wonder who else could be denied service by a state that operates this way. Magistrates could refuse to perform marriages for divorced people, interracial couples and couples of different faiths. One Observer letter writer pointed out that the Bible might encourage some magistrates to turn away gossips, liars, women not wearing dresses or people who eat shellfish.

Besides being morally wrong, Senate Bill 2 is unconstitutional. If it were to pass it would likely prompt yet another expensive court challenge, and it would ultimately be struck down.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory said in March that he would not sign the bill. Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Republican from Cornelius, voted against the bill even though he opposes gay marriage because he recognizes that civil servants must uphold the law.

The Senate passed the bill in February so it can only be stopped in the House. Call or email House Judiciary Committee members today and let them know what you think.

Speak up

The House Judiciary I Committee takes up Senate Bill 2 at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. Here are the committee members. All have email addresses of firstname.lastname@ncleg.net, such as leo.daughtry@ncleg.net, except as noted:

Rep. Leo Daughtry, chairman,

Rep. Justin Burr, vice chairman

Rep. Darren Jackson, vice chairman

Rep. Dean Arp

Rep. Larry Hall

Rep. Jon Hardister

Rep. Julia Howard

Rep. Linda Johnson (Linda.johnson2@ncleg.net)

Rep. Grier Martin

Rep. Allen McNeill

Rep. George Robinson

Rep. Bob Steinburg

Rep. John Szoka