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Here’s what NC magistrate should do

From a column by Jay Michaelson, distributed by the Religion News Service:

What goes on among religious people, and in religious spaces, is constitutionally as well as theologically sacred.

But the courthouse is not a religious space, and the magistrate is not acting in a religious capacity. She is doing her job, which she took an oath to do.

In fact, by obeying the law, she is following Jesus’ commandment to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”

Same-sex marriage is only one of many marriages that some clerks may find objectionable. Suppose two divorced people marry one another. Some Catholics may believe that to be against God’s law. But a Catholic magistrate is not a Catholic priest. He’s not performing the sacrament of marriage. He’s acting under secular, state law.

Or suppose a 17-year-old girl marries a 60-year-old man. Some may find that religiously or morally problematic, but the state of North Carolina allows it.

Or suppose a black man marries a white woman — illegal in North Carolina until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled such laws unconstitutional. Was that ruling incorrect? Should marriage clerks with sincere religious objections have been able to opt out?

This is why North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, vetoed the bill. Not because he endorses same-sex marriage — he doesn’t. But because confusing civil and religious marriage undermines the rule of law.

Here’s what a believing magistrate in North Carolina should do when that gay couple approaches her window. She should understand that she is not wedding two people before God, but validating their legal marriage under the laws of the United States. She should feel blessed to be able to do so. And she should thank God that in our country, the two are not confused with one another.

Michaelson is a columnist for The Daily Beast and author of the 2013 report “Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights.”

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