State Sen. Phil Berger’s bill offers gay marriage opt-out

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State Senator Phil Berger (R) of Eden has introduced a bill allowing magistrates and registers of deeds staff to opt-out of performing same-sex marriages.

Berger promised to introduce the bill last fall after a magistrate in Rockingham County resigned instead of performing same-sex marriage saying it was against his faith.

"While the courts have expanded the freedoms of some, we must not ignore the constitutionally-protected rights of others," said Berger in a statement. "This bill offers a reasonable solution to protect the First Amendment rights of magistrates and register of deeds employees while complying with the marriage law ordered by the courts – so they are not forced to abandon their religious beliefs to save their jobs."

Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen worries the bill is too vague.

"It's not just same-sex marriages," said Thigpen. "It could possibly be like a Catholic employee seeing someone getting their second marriage. Could they object from that based on their beliefs?"

Thigpen says he's also concerned about rural county register of deeds offices with small staff that may be unable to offer a same-sex couple their legal rights to a marriage license.

​The bill also allows any magistrates who resigned or lost their jobs as a result of this issue to be allowed to reapply for vacant positions.