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Public Weighs In On Bill To Allow Magistrates To Opt-Out Of Marriage Duties

Reema Khrais

A state House judiciary committee heard public comment Wednesday on a bill that would allow magistrates and registers of deeds to opt-out of performing marriages altogether if they are opposed to same-sex unions for religious reasons. 

Senate Bill 2 quickly passed in the Senate last week and is now before the House for consideration. At Wednesday’s meeting, a group of House lawmakers heard from nine members of the public, most who oppose the legislation.

Rev. Lorraine Ljunggren of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church said government officials must respect the oath they took to protect the rights of individuals. She also noted the legislation could open doors to other government officials who seek religious exemptions.

“It sets us on a slope far more slippery than the [icy] I-540 and aviation parkway overfly did on Sunday,” Ljunggren said.

She added that the bill would “codify discrimination” against same-sex couples.

The panel also heard from Mark Creech, executive director of the North Carolina Christian Action League, who commended the plan.

“It is very critical, now that same-sex marriage is legal in North Carolina, to strike a balance that protects religious freedoms and complies with the rulings by the federal court,” he said.

He argued that without Senate Bill 2, state judicial officials would be “forced to perform what they believe is not marriage.”

Tony Cope, owner of Myriad Media, also shared his thoughts as a small business owner. Cope said he has trouble recruiting out-of-state workers because of ideological bills like Senate Bill 2 that “create a hostile environment” in North Carolina. 

“I want to expand and I want to grow [my business]…and these sort of things work against us every day,” Cope said.

The North Carolina Association of Registers of Deeds has not taken a position on the bill, but director Wayne Rash said the group has concerns. 

He said that 42 of the state’s 100 county offices have three or fewer employees, which raises questions about how the bill will be implemented if all of an office's employees opt-out. 

“So the concern becomes ‘how does that work?’ “Would you at least consider some accommodation for smaller counties?” he asked lawmakers.

The bill still has to clear the House before it reaches the governor for final consideration.  

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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