Recently the North Carolina Senate reaffirmed its support for legislation that would allow public officials such as magistrates and register of deeds’ employees to refuse to perform their duties in the instances of same sex marriages.
Senate Bill 2 had been vetoed by Gov. Pat McCrory, but the Senate voted to override the veto. Today Rep. Sarah Stevens and her colleagues in the House will determine the fate of the legislation when they consider overriding the governor’s veto.
In Randleman’s weekly newsletter she touts that SB2 “makes clear that magistrates and registers of deeds’ employees with religious objections have the right to recuse themselves from performing all marriage ceremonies without fear of losing their jobs or facing criminal prosecution.”
Like it or not, same sex marriage is legal here in North Carolina. This piece isn’t about what I or anybody else thinks about that. It’s about carrying out the duties of public office.
When I raised my right hand to take an oath of office in 2007 I accepted that I was a servant of the people. It was my job to carry out their will and enforce the laws of the community I served, the state and the nation.
What that means is that when I walked into city hall in Lorain, Ohio, I had to take many of my own beliefs and set them at the door step. It wasn’t my job to exert my will or my opinion on the people. It was my job to carry out my duties as they were prescribed under the law. I could pick my beliefs up on the way out the door.
In short, that meant that because I took my oath seriously sometimes I had to do some things I didn’t want to do.
When two consenting adults wish to get married they should be able to walk into the register of deeds office and get their marriage licence. That’s a register of deeds’ duty as prescribed by North Carolina law. Then they should be able to go to a public official, whose duty it is to marry people, and be married.
Two adults shouldn’t fear being rejected by officials making a living on the tax payer dime.
This legislation is about continuing a fight that has already been decided in the court system, a part of the system that public officials swear to uphold and defend.
Another matter for which Randleman and others may need some clarity is First Amendment rights. When two guys, two girls or even Caitlyn Jenner and Giselle Joyce show up in the register of deeds office for a marriage license there’s nothing requiring the employees of that office to celebrate or even like the idea of those two individuals getting married.
It’s simply the duty of those public officials to print the paperwork. There’s nothing in that order of events that says a public official can’t practice his or her religion. On Sunday the public official can go to church and pray the two souls to heaven, hell or somewhere in between.
If the public official is Muslim and its prayer time it would even be appropriate for the official to take a short prayer break mid-license to have a quick discussion with Allah. The public official could issue the license in traditional Buddhist attire if he or she so pleased.
No matter what the public official thinks about the marriage or what church he or she attends the oath that individual took, to his or her deity in some instances, says that he or she should carry out the duties of the office.
Another scary idea is how far a public official’s prerogative regarding whether or not he or she carries out the legally mandatory duties of the office they inhabit extends. Could a Catholic magistrate refuse to marry two individuals because they hadn’t taken the marriage preparation classes that are sometimes required by the Catholic church.
Could a register of deeds employee refuse to issue a marriage license because he or she didn’t approve of an individual getting re-married after being divorced in a prior marriage?
I always say that the only person one need answer to is the person in the mirror. If a public official can raise his hand and swear to carry out the duties of the office and uphold the laws of the land then refuse to carry out the statutory duties of the office based on his personal belief system, I would think that public official should get a few mixed vibes from the person in the mirror when he receives his next taxpayer-funded paycheck.