• 81°

Todd Paris: Belief or prejudice? Brock bill raises legal questions

Todd Paris

Todd Paris is an attorney living in Salisbury.

Todd Paris is an attorney living in Salisbury.

By Todd Paris

Special to the Salisbury Post

N.C. President Pro-Tem Phil Berger has introduced Senate Bill 2 “Magistrate’s Recusal of Civil Ceremonies.” It is co-sponsored by Sen. Andrew Brock, a Republican who represents most of Rowan County. The obvious intent is to allow magistrates to refuse to marry same-sex couples after the U.S. Supreme Court denied to review the 4th Circuit’s decision in Bostic v. Schaefer. That court’s majority conclusion was that “Virginia’s same-sex marriage bans impermissibly infringe on its citizens’ fundamental right to marry.” Since North Carolina is in the Fourth Circuit, our own very similar ban died by virtue of the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to review this decision.

There is a legitimate legal issue for individual magistrates and deputy and assistant register of deeds that do not wish to assist in same-sex marriages in that N.C. Gen. Statute 14-230 establishes a misdemeanor penalty for refusing to perform the duties of their office. S.B. 2 would allow these state employees to refuse to take part in the civil marriage process based upon any “sincerely held religious objection” and prohibit disciplinary action or criminal prosecution for such refusal. If all deputy and assistant registers of deeds refuse to issue marriage licenses, then the elected register of deeds must issue the license him or herself. If all magistrates refuse, then it falls to the chief district court judge. It would seem, technically, to allow same sex marriages to still happen, though place the responsibility on these two elected officials. I am not sure if 14-230 applies to these two elected officials.

Senate Bill 2 would make bad law. Hopefully, the House will reject it. How do you decide if a magistrate or register has a “sincerely held religious belief” as opposed to mere prejudice? Do we establish a committee to review the church attendance and tithing history of those seeking to be excused? Do we want to place a state official in charge of determining the sincerity of another’s religious beliefs? What standards do we use?

Please note that this proposed law does not mention “same-sex marriage” anywhere. It allows recusal from marriage related duties for any “sincerely held religious belief.” What happens if the magistrate and register attends a fundamentalist church that does not believe in “mixed marriages?” What happens if a conservative Catholic magistrate or register does not believe in second marriages?

A bad precedent for the future arises if other government employees also demand recusal from duties deemed religiously onerous. There are churches and mosques that literally interpret verses in the Koran and Old Testament that allow husbands to physically discipline their wives.  Will law enforcement officers be allowed to refuse to arrest at domestic violence calls due to their “sincerely held religious beliefs?” If a magistrate becomes Rastafarian can he refuse to issue warrants on marijuana possession?

Then again, maybe when you take an oath of office which includes upholding the U.S. Constitution, it also includes the United States Supreme Court’s decisions, even those you don’t like. If you can’t do that, well, maybe you need to find another avocation. I wonder what went on back in the ‘50s when magistrates and registers were first forced to assist in mixed marriages. I feel like we have been here before and ought to know better.

Todd Paris is an attorney who lives in Salisbury.

Comments

Nation/World

Ex-FBI lawyer to plead guilty in Trump-Russia probe review

Nation/World

Tropical Storm Josephine closer to land in busy Atlantic hurricane season

Elections

Post Office warns states about mail voting

Coronavirus

UNC-Chapel Hill sees two COVID outbreaks in reopened dorms

Education

All three school board seats contested as filing closes

Coronavirus

Spencer nursing home has COVID-19 outbreak

Crime

Blotter: Arrest made in connection with Kannapolis shooting incident

Crime

Sheriff’s office: Man faces weapons charge after fleeing traffic stop

News

Forest abandons lawsuit challenging Cooper executive orders

Crime

Update: Funeral held for boy, 5, who was fatally shot in Wilson

Education

Salisbury-Rowan NAACP hosts virtual town hall with superintendent

Nation/World

Crews try to tame California wildfire as heat wave arrives

Coronavirus

Nursing home outbreak first reported last week sees first COVID-19 death

Coronavirus

1,400 face masks given out at county’s drive-thru giveaway

Crime

Blotter: August 14

Business

With more than 1,500 patrons in two weeks, High Rock Lake restaurant gets off to hot start

Business

State awards $584,100 grant to Three Rivers Land Trust for farmland preservation in Cabarrus County

Crime

Teen faces laundry list of charges after string of larcenies

Crime

Salisbury man faces charges after trying to retrieve phone from police

Crime

Police: Father hospitalized after being shot in argument with son

Education

RSS teachers adapting classrooms to the pandemic

Education

Shoutouts

Coronavirus

County launches paramedic program for those recovering COVID-19

Education

Cooper directs $95.6 million for students affected by COVID-19