Alamance County takes center stage in N.C. gay marriage fight

North Carolina LGBT advocates say magistrates can't refuse 'non-religious ceremonies in taxpayer-funded state buildings by state officials who receive salaries from our tax dollars'

Update: Alamance judge says all magistrates must perform marriages

A chief district judge in Alamance County is continuing to push back on North Carolina’s recognition of same-sex marriage, as administrative officials for the state’s court system tell him and other county judges that magistrates must perform weddings for same-sex couples or face losing their jobs.

This week, Chief District Court Judge Jim Roberson has defended magistrates who say they won’t perform legal, civil same-sex marriages.

He’s asking for a “compromise” that allows some magistrates to opt out of their mandated legal obligations.

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“I highly respect people’s legitimate, deep-seated, consciously held religious beliefs. I also highly respect people’s individual rights. Trying to balance those two is where my goal is right now,” Roberson told The Burlington Times-News on Wednesday, “finding that balance where we can assure the public the law will be followed and marriage ceremonies will be performed as requested.”

The pushback in Alamance comes after a Pasquotank County magistrate in eastern North Carolina refused to marry a gay couple on Monday. Additionally, Alamance County Register of Deeds Webster Hugh as said “about half” of his employees won’t issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

On Tuesday, a memo from the legal counsel of North Carolina’s Administrative Office of the Courts told magistrates and judges across the state who refuse to carry out their official duties would be in violation of their oaths of office, which could result in suspension, dismissal or misdemeanor criminal charges.

“If a valid marriage license [is] issued … it is a statutory duty of the magistrate to conduct the marriage between the persons named in the license in the same manner as the magistrate would conduct any other marriage,” the memo from general counsel Pamela Weaver best reads. “A failure to do so would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution under the federal ruling, and would constitute a violation of the oath and a failure to perform a duty of the office.”

Best’s memo continued: “For these reasons, all magistrates must treat same-sex marriages for which a marriage license has been issued by the Register of Deeds the same way that marriages between a man and a woman are scheduled and conducted.”

Advocates with state LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina have been monitoring efforts to discriminate against LGBT couples in Alamance, Pasquotank and elsewhere.

They say Roberson is confusing an issue on which there is no legal debate.

“While there should be no confusion, Judge Roberson’s statements make it appear that certain magistrates he supervises who object to performing same-sex marriage ceremonies for religious reasons will not be required to do so, in violation of that law,” Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro said in a statement to qnotes.

Sgro continued: “While we respect a person’s religious freedom and views, same-sex couples seeking non-religious ceremonies in taxpayer-funded state buildings by state officials who receive salaries from our tax dollars should not be put in the position to be refused by anyone working for the state of North Carolina. We pledge to work diligently with local, state, and federal officials to assure that all state employees, including those in North Carolina’s 100 counties, are upholding the laws of our state.”

Roberson’s remarks seem straight out of the religious right’s political playbook.

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In recent years, conservatives have attempted to pass so-called religious freedom “protection” or “restoration” acts in several states, including Kansas and Arizona. In some versions of the legislation, including a proposed version in North Carolina’s last legislative session, governments would be prohibited from “substantially burden[-ing] a person’s free exercise of religion.” That would leave LGBT people virtually cut off from any legal recourse if a businesses or even a government official were to discriminate against LGBT people or opt out of official duties.

Similar issues were played out by the U.S. Supreme Court this year, which upheld Hobby Lobby’s right to opt out of contraceptive coverage mandated under the Affordable Care Act, due to the “sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.”

Rockingham magistrate resigns

On Thursday, a magistrate in Rockingham County resigned his office over the issue of same-sex marriage, citing his personal religious beliefs.

“When I took my oath of office, I understood I would be required to perform weddings and have done so throughout my tenure,” Rockingham Magistrate John G. Kallam, Jr., wrote in his resignation letter. “I did not however take that oath with any understanding that I would be required to marry same sex couples. It is my personal belief and a position of my Christian faith that doing so would desecrate a holy Institution established by God Himself.”

Kallam added: “Since performing marriages is an integral part of being a Magistrate and in light of recent changes in North Carolina law. I can no longer fulfill my oath of office in good faith.”

And, he finished his resignation letter reminding citizens to “fear God,” writing: “I am reminded of the last words of David who said, ‘He that rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God’. Where there is no ‘fear of God’ there can be no justice!”

Greensboro’s News & Record reports that Rockingham County Chief District Court Judge Fred Wilkins confirmed Kallam’s resignation. Wilkins further said he would have fulfilled his own oath and suspended Kallam if he had refused to marry a same-gender couple.

Update: Second N.C. magistrate resigns, says “I know what the Bible says.” Read more…

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Posted by Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

19 Replies to “Alamance County takes center stage in N.C. gay marriage fight”

  1. Can they turn away interracial couples? No? Okay, they’re fired.

  2. “This week, Chief District Court Judge Jim Roberson has defended magistrates who say they won’t perform legal, civil same-sex marriages.

    He’s asking for a ‘compromise’ that allows some magistrates to opt out of their mandated legal obligations.”

    Well, Judge Roberson, there’s already a “compromise” in place. It’s called “give up your cushy, taxpayer-funded job, with all its benefits, and find employment in the private sector”!

  3. The judge and the magistrates should be reprimanded or let go. They are obligated to uphold the law. If they were interested in upholding their interpretation of the bible then they should have gone into the clergy. Ironically it was the UCC’s lawsuit that got the ban struck down.

  4. I am an unemployed paralegal (not by choice) who would be MOST happy take any of these jobs if they cannot perform the job task. Unless they refuse to marry ALL couples, they can not pick and choose. “I’ll marry this one because I like his shoes and her dress but I won’t marry that one because she’s wearing sandals”.

    It’s just ignorance to think you can pick and choose the tasks at work you will do or not do and NOT expected to be unemployed.

    1. Nicely stated Sheryl :)

      1. Thank you for you r statement Sheryl I hope that everyone would think as you do.

  5. They are public officials, paid with tax dollars. If they can’t perform their duties because of their religious beliefs, they should not be involved in marriages and perhaps should be moved into positions where their talents and beliefs are beneficial, not a hindrance.

    Otherwise, where does it stop? Will you have teachers that refuse to teach people of other religions because they are heathens? Public officials paid with tax dollars cannot discriminate.

  6. I wonder how many of these government employees actually upheld the words of Jesus and refused to issue marriage licenses to opposite sex couples, where one or both were divorced.

  7. I understand Dr and nurses not performing abortions or issuing meds. however.. they are not government employees. These Magistrates are Employees of the people, and like the Gov. said “we might not like the law but we have to enforce and follow it” The courts made the ruling. I like to speed but I obey the posted speed limits (most of the time) but if not I understand that I must face the penalty. This is straight cut insubordination, pull them in the office and say bye bye your hereby terminated. NC is a Right to work state and that includes officials that put themselves above the law. do your job or find a new one.

  8. Gerald Henderson October 16, 2014 at 5:57 pm

    If you think your religious beliefs are more important than obeying the civil laws, that belief is certainly your right to hold. However, the separation of church and state, as well as your own claimed moral obligation, requires you to vacate your office. If you think your narrow-minded stand is going to stop the course of history, though, I suggest you look back at the people in a similar situation when segregation was overturned. They also had religious objections they would not compromise, and they are rightfully derided as bigots nowadays.

  9. I bet they don’t mind marring interracial couples, or divorced couples. Smh. Time to put on your grown-up panties people.

  10. I grew up in Alamance county. What a hole. I moved away as quickly as I could. They wont change. They would still have seperate drinking fountains if it werent for the law.

  11. “Render unto Caesar…..”

  12. I stand with Judge Roberson. A person’s religious convictions should not be compromised. We are being told to honor the Muslin/Islamic religious habits of prayer and are told we cannot pray to our God. Now we are being forced to go against God or lose our jobs. The law does NOT have the right to dictate to a person to perform a marriage ceremony that is against nature. What next…man and animal? Oh yes, this has nothing to do with race, it is not a black or white issue at all. So get off the racial kick folks and move into this century.

    1. Johnnie—not all of us believe that marriage is a function of religion. My husband and I have been married for a very very long time. We were not married in the church.

      These people have the task of performing services based on their JOB DESCRIPTION–not based on religion. The accept a paycheck ever week to preform their job. This is NOT a religious job description and religion should not dictate when they do their job. They are free to leave and peruse other positions whenever they choose. The are being paid a good wage with an excellent benefit package.

      Again, I’d be HAPPY to have their job since I am unemployed due to downsize positions.

    2. Opposition to interracial marriage, opposition to integration, was driven by a religious belief that God wanted to keep the races separate. That is why the Southern Baptists supported segregation and taught it. And that is why they apologized for it later on. So it is exactly the same thing as if a magistrate back in 1968 would refuse to marry an interracial couple because of his religious belief. You know you have created God in your own image when he hates the same people you do.

  13. I wonder how often Judge Roberson lets criminal defendants opt out of their duty to follow the law.

  14. Elizabeth Teeter Mench October 17, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    Ok kids let’s review some history. Marriage was never a Christian practice. It really wasn’t even a religious one. It was a political practice then turned into something to gain property, slaves and so forth then we got to (at least here ) marry for love. So stop that argument. Unless you are going to stop divorce because you know …… religion.

    Magistrate is not a religious position. It is government position. That means religion has no weight on the job and the job has to be done in accordance with the laws and such of the state.

    Now at some point we all took civics class. And I clearly remember a bit about separation of church and state and so forth. Yeah…..once again religion does not make the laws. And do not use the whole forefathers were religious bit either. They were very clear about religion not ruling this country ( and they were also clear about keeping our nose out of international affairs).

    Freedom of religion all it does really is give you a right to have any religion you want and not have to face jail time, to face losing a job or be put to death. It does not mean you force it down everyone throat. If you don’t want to marry couples of the same sex then don’t have a job that does so.

    And by the way……..just a tidbit of really old history………..being completely straight, monogamous and being married was odd. Like really odd.

    1. Elizabeth–you said it WAY better than I did.

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