All four magistrates in McDowell County, N.C., have opted to take advantage of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT magistrate refusal bill, citing their religious beliefs against same-gender marriage, according to a report today from WLOS.
It’s a scenario some advocates feared might happen when North Carolina lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2 this year, making it legal for magistrates and registers of deeds employees to opt out of marriage-related services if they hold a “sincerely held religious objection.”
Effectively, that means that couples currently have limited opportunities to marry in McDowell County. Senate Bill 2, in addition to providing magistrates an out on doing their job, also requires each county to offer marriage services for at least 10 hours each week.
McDowell’s been able to keep up with the minimum 10-hour requirement by having magistrates in neighboring Rutherford County drive over on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
From WLOS’ report:
A Rutherford County magistrate tells News 13 he and another magistrate have been driving a half hour back and forth three times a week to cover duties.
News 13 spoke with the magistrates’ Superviser, Chief District Judge Randy Pool, who says, “Every single one has said they will opt out and won’t do the marriages. They have arranged for Rutherford County magistrates to devote ten hours to performing marriages here.”
The judge added, “They are following the law and cannot perform marriages of any kind for six months. Just as long as we do ten hours a week which is the what the law requires.”
The situation in McDowell has a real practical effect on couples seeking to obtain civil marriage services. Where couples might have once been able to legally wed on any day, they now have to work their schedules around the limited services now being offered.
It’s hardly fair or equal. If couples in a neighboring county can be wed with much easier access, but couples in another county are facing obstacles due to limited services, then one can hardly argue that the couples are being treated equitably.
And, at the end of the day, taxpayer money continues to flow into the refusing magistrates’ paychecks, all the while taxpayers also pick up the tab of whatever travel expenses or other costs are being racked up from magistrates driving from out of the county to do the jobs others refuse to do.
Unlike North Carolina, Kentucky had no magistrate-refusal legislation, leading to county clerk Kim Davis‘ contempt charges and controversy these past few weeks.