The Law vs. Conscience

Published 8:53 am Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Pasquotank County magistrate refused on Monday to marry a same-sex couple in Elizabeth City. While Magistrate Gary Littleton did not cite a reason for his refusal, the Chief District Court Judge for District-One, the Honorable C. Christopher Bean, said magistrates must perform their duty, part of which is to perform marriages – regardless of sexual persuasion.

Bean said the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) sent a preliminary memo to the magistrates late Monday saying, “Magistrates should begin immediately conducting marriages of all couples presenting a marriage license.”

The magistrate’s position conflicted with the AOC’s orders that all judicial personnel accommodate same-sex couples just as they would heterosexual couples following last week’s ruling by a federal judge striking down a state law and an amendment to the state Constitution that prohibits gay marriage.

Under state law, a magistrate who fails to perform his or her legal duties can face removal or suspension.

State courts spokeswoman Sharon Gladwell says she is not aware of any other magistrates who have refused to marry same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, at an Elizabeth City news conference, Judge Bean made clear the position magistrates must follow.

“I believe the final memo will say, without any question, that that is the duty of the magistrate,” Bean is quoted as saying.

When asked if the magistrate would know that he or she would not be able to deny a same-sex marriage based on personal beliefs, even without the memo, Bean replied, “You would think that.”

Bean said he met with all of the magistrates in Pasquotank County on Tuesday about the issue.

Late Tuesday the couple was married by another magistrate in Pasquotank County and they later told the media they will not be filing a formal complaint against the non-compliant magistrate; therefore the magistrate will not face any disciplinary action.

Here in the Roanoke-Chowan there have been no reports of magistrates refusing to marry same-sex couples.

District 6B Chief District Court Judge, the Honorable W. Rob Lewis, who supervises the Magistrates in Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties, said he has briefed those under his jurisdiction.

“I passed on the information that I received from the people who handle it that this is now the law,” Lewis said in a telephone interview. “They are bound to abide by the law and I expect them to handle matters as such.”

Lewis went on to say the decision by the magistrates is not one of compromise.

“Everyone does what they have to do,” he added. “While magistrates are not ministers, one could look at this as a ministerial-type of decision.  Notary publics don’t have to agree with everything they notarize.  There’s is not a commitment by God, but by the state.”

Meanwhile, two area ministers were asked about refusing to marry same-sex couples on one’s moral or religious grounds.

“I’m sure he (the magistrate) was prepared for the backlash,” said Rev. Amanda Hoggard of the Askewville Bethel Assembly of God Church. “He likely wouldn’t have made that decision without knowing he could lose his job.”

Rev. Hoggard went on to add that there can be conflict between duty and belief.

“Many Christians who are in government positions and are loving, kind people have made remaining in their jobs a matter of prayer,” she added.”They know they will have to violate their beliefs to fulfill their duties. Some choose to resign; some choose to be released when push comes to shove. It is somewhat disappointing that the pursuit of one group’s rights is slowly etching away at the rights of others.”

Rev. C. David Stackhouse, pastor of New Ahoskie Baptist Church, says he was vexed by the decision, and strongly defended his moral beliefs.

“I am theologically unnerved by the cultural shift that has created our current social climate,” Stackhouse said. “Prayer in schools is condemned as an infringement on others; meanwhile, same sex marriage is heralded as something others must and should support. This cultural shift in social norms has even penetrated our state of North Carolina, the “Bible Belt” of our Country.

“In my summation homosexuality is perversion,” the pastor continued. “Man was anatomically created for a woman, and woman for a man.  I do not support hate, but I do stand firmly grounded upon my biblical beliefs. Therefore, I strive not to be politically correct, but biblically and morally correct.”