Nov 11, 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 and responsibilities. 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:
"We have serious ethical concerns about Senator Berger’s conduct. Intentionally misleading judicial officials about their responsibility to comply with federal court orders and attempting to bully the Director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts into encouraging judicial officials to violate these two federal court orders is prejudicial to the administration of justice in this state. Senator Berger, in conjunction with radical groups like North Carolina Values Coalition, has been intentionally dishonest with the magistrates across North Carolina. The law is clear – magistrates must treat same and opposite-sex couples equally. This is not an issue of religious liberties; it is about doing your job. We all have job responsibilities, and the fair treatment of all couples is one of them for magistrates and all other state officials. As an attorney, Senator Berger should know that it’s wrong to engage in conduct involving these types of blatant misrepresentations, " Sgro said.
Sgro added, "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 they agree."
At a news conference two weeks ago Sen. Berger said he intends to file legislation that would explicitly permit magistrates to discriminate against same-sex couples and decline to perform their duties under North Carolina law. Such a law would likely be struck down by courts as unconstitutional.
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 requires state officials to treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples equally under the law.
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.