(Corrects day of judge's order to Tuesday from Monday)
By Mica Rosenberg
NEW YORK, Sept 21 A federal judge threw out a
challenge to a North Carolina law that allows government
officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages if they cite
religious objections, claiming the couples who brought the suit
failed to establish they were harmed by the law.
The six plaintiffs, who include gay couples, argued in the
suit filed in U.S. District Court in Asheville that the
legislation - Senate Bill 2 - allows magistrates and other
officials performing marriages to put their personal beliefs
before their sworn constitutional duty.
The plaintiffs said on Wednesday they would appeal the
ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn on Tuesday.
Cogburn said the plaintiffs had not argued they were being
directly injured by the law, but instead said that their tax
dollars were not being used according to the constitution.
He said they had not presented enough evidence to prove they
had been harmed as taxpayers, although he did add that citizens
could potentially suffer "real or emotional harm" as a result of
the law because the magistrates decision to opt-out is secret.
North Carolina's Republican-led legislature passed the law
in 2015 as social conservatives nationwide pushed for so-called
"religious freedom bills" in response to same-sex marriage
State legislators overrode Republican Governor Pat McCrory's
veto of the measure the same month the U.S. Supreme Court
legalized gay marriage across the country.
Data from September 2015 showed at least 32 magistrates
across the state have thus far exempted themselves as have
Register of Deeds employees in five counties, according the
Campaign for Southern Equality, which supported the suit.
"Senate Bill 2 expressly declares that magistrates religious
beliefs are superior to their oath of judicial office," said
attorney Luke Largess from Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, which
represented the couples in the case. "The law spends public
money to advance those religious beliefs. That is a
straightforward violation of the First Amendment."
The office of North Carolina's Attorney General declined to
comment on the case, according to spokeswoman Noelle Talley.
Magistrates who ask to opt out are barred from performing
any marriage, gay or heterosexual, for six months.
The nonprofit group the Liberty Counsel, which represented a
magistrate as an intervenor in the case, said both the U.S.
Constitution and the North Carolina Constitution require
accommodation of religious beliefs even for government
North Carolina has come under fire for another law passed
earlier this year that prohibits people from using public
restrooms not corresponding to their biological sex.
Major sports organizations including the National Collegiate
Athletic Association and the National Basketball Association
have moved their competitions from the state to protest the
so-called bathroom bill.
(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Alan Crosby)