A North Carolina magistrate announced on Tuesday morning that he would not perform marriages for same-sex couples. Saying it was against his religion, the Pasquotank County judge turned away a couple requesting a license. They are expected to return later to be married by a different magistrate.

According to 13 News Now, the magistrate could be charged with a misdemeanor for turning the couple away.

It’s raising the question, though, of whether a court employee can refuse to carry out a portion of his job by claiming that it violates his beliefs. This harkens to a a similar situation in 2009, in which a Louisiana Justice of the Peace also refused to perform a marriage that he said shouldn’t be allowed.

In that case, Justice Keith Bardwell resigned, after a couple filed a lawsuit saying his refusal was discriminatory and violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, according to CNN. The big difference between the two cases is that, while that couple was heterosexual, it was also interracial.

The ex-Justice said,

I found out I can’t be a justice of the peace and have a conscience.

It’s the same argument that’s being recycled against same-sex couples now: that performing a marriage violates the conscience of the officiant.

However, this differs from the much-vaunted fear that ministers and churches would be forced to perform same-sex marriages in an important respect: churches and church officiants hold certain rights and protections that county and state employees do not have.

A church has the right to turn away anyone it chooses, and not be (legally) guilty of discrimination. For a government office, or a government employee in representation of that office, to discriminate does indeed constitute a violation of equal protections under the law.

The North Carolina magistrate who refused to perform the same-sex marriage has offered no public comment, and has not been named, but Pasquotank County Clerk of Superior Court Connie James Thornley says that at this time, no magistrates have resigned over the requirements.

UPDATE — New information: After Magistrate Refuses Same-Sex Marriage, NC Courts Hand Down Mandate

[photo credit: cpj79]

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