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Appeals Court Upholds NC Law That Lets Magistrates Opt Out Of Performing Gay Marriages

scales of justice

The federal appeals court has rejected a challenge to a 2015 state law that lets North Carolina magistrates opt out of marrying same-sex couples on religious grounds. The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond ruled Wednesday that the three couples who challenged the law lacked standing to sue and were not harmed by the law.

The Republican-controlled legislature passed Senate Bill 2 in 2015 to protect magistrates after gay marriage became legal nationwide.  After that, all of the magistrates in McDowell County recused themselves, and the state reassigned magistrates from Rutherford County.

Two gay couples and one interracial couple challenged the law, objecting to its use of taxpayer funds to pay for re-assigning other magistrates to perform marriages in districts where  magistrates had opted out. They argued that using public funds to accommodate the magistrates' religious views violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

A lower court had dismissed the suit, saying the couples lacked standing as taxpayers and failed to show they were prevented from getting married under the law. On Wednesday, the Fourth Circuit Court agreed.


June 28, 2017, published opinion of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Ansley v. Warren (PDF)