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Nov 10, 2014

Equality NC Responds to Berger Letter to NC courts


RALEIGH, N.C. (Nov. 11, 2014) -- Equality NC responded today to a letter sent by N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger to the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, objecting to the courts' interpretation and defense of state marriage laws which allow same-sex couples to marry.

In a letter directed to Judge John Smith, the director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, Senate President Pro Tem Berger fired back at Smith who told magistrates last Wednesday, that they must uphold the law or face consequences and that Berger may have "misled" them regarding their rights. Smith's letter noted that some counties have only one magistrate and that federal laws have invalidated the state's prohibitions on same-sex marriages. North Carolina's Republican Governor Pat McCrory has also said he would uphold the law.

In Berger's rebuttal to Smith, the Senate leader accused the N.C. courts of misunderstanding the law. Click here to view Berger's letter to Smith.

Equality NC's Chris Sgro issued the following statement in response to Berger, calling the Senate leader's continued attempts to allow magistrates and other state employees to defend only the laws they agree with, "a dangerous idea."

"Governor Pat McCrory and the Administrative Office of the Courts were correct when they affirmed that state employees must respect their oaths to the U.S. Constitution and cannot deny services to people based on who they are or who they love. Senator Phil Berger's latest response not only ignores the law, but reveals a dubious agenda to proffer a dangerous idea that state employees should follow only the rules with which he and they agree," Sgro.

Sgro added, "Government officials serve all of the public and all North Carolinians who respect the rule of law and who receive state services should be deeply concerned by Senator Berger’s defiance of the sound advice provided by Governor McCrory and the Administrative Office of the Courts. The heart of this matter is not an individual's freedoms; it is about government actors respecting the law, doing their job, and treating everyone fairly. Phil Berger's missives do nothing to change that."

At a news conference two weeks ago Sen. Berger said he intends file legislation that would explicitly permit magistrates to discriminate against same-sex couples and decline to perform their duties under North Carolina law.

Last week, Berger and Senator-elect Thom Tillis also filed notice of appeal of a federal ruling overturning the state's ban on marriage equality. The court documents, filed by John C. Eastman, a California lawyer and chairman of the anti-LGBT group National Organization for Marriage (NOM), outlines the plans of Berger and Tillis, to challenge October rulings by U.S. District Judge William Osteen Jr. in two cases (Fisher-Borne; Gerber) that nullified the 2012 marriage ban.

A federal judge in Asheville has also ruled the North Carolina marriage ban was unconstitutional but rejected a bid by Tillis and Berger to appeal.

CLICK HERE to demand Tillis & Berger stop their appeal of the freedom to marry in North Carolina.

ABOUT EQUALITY NC: Equality NC is the statewide organization working to secure equal rights and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender North Carolinians.

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