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NC Law Front and Center Again in Federal Court

A case challenging North Carolina's Senate Bill 2 is being heard in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals today. (Brian Turner/Flickr)
A case challenging North Carolina's Senate Bill 2 is being heard in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals today. (Brian Turner/Flickr)
May 10, 2017

MARION, N.C. - A North Carolina law once again is being reviewed by a federal court.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., today is to hear arguments in a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 2. Also known as the "Magistrate Recusal" law, it allows magistrates who don't believe in marriage equality to renounce their judicial oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

Meghann Burke, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said allowing the law to stand also opens up a host of other problems.

"Even though we know Senate Bill 2 was passed as a response to marriage equality," she said, "this law, the way it's written, would allow a magistrate to exempt himself from doing his job if, for example, he thinks people of different races should not marry."

Burke also is an attorney for the Campaign for Southern Equality, which has spoken out in support of plaintiffs Diane Ansley and Cathy McGaughey, a married couple from McDowell County where at one point all magistrates had exempted themselves from marrying the pair. Magistrates were brought in from other counties to fulfill the request.

Supporters of SB 2 have said it's a matter of religious freedom for state employees. Burke argued that being denied services by a county in which you live and pay taxes has a destructive impact on those involved.

"Laws like Senate Bill 2 impose an immeasurable amount of stigmatic harm on the people who are the targets of these laws," Burke said, "but it also brands these marriages with a certain belief these marriages are not equal to other marriages, and we think that violates both the First Amendment and Equal Protection clause."

Burke said the U.S. Constitution provides a fundamental right to marry under the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses. She added that SB 2 also costs taxpayers when other magistrates have to come into a county. In recent years, federal courts also have reviewed - and overturned - North Carolina's Amendment 1, which stated that marriage was intended between a man and a woman.

Information about the case is online at

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.

Stephanie Carson/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - NC