Laura Riddick: Same-sex marriage issue a misuse of Register office

November 4, 2013 

Regarding the Sept. 26 Point of View piece “An immoral law”: The issue of same-sex marriage threatens to drag North Carolina’s 100 Registers of Deeds into territory where we don’t belong: making public policy.

We are elected in our counties to record, manage and provide property records, birth and death records, marriage licenses and other public documents. We have no legal authority whatsoever to decide who may marry. We are administrators, not legislators or judges, a crucial distinction. It is troubling that activists promoting same-sex marriage have urged Registers across the state to defy laws we are obligated to follow.

The Campaign for Southern Equality, which promotes same-sex marriage, is, to quote its executive director, “barnstorming North Carolina, as LGBT couples ask their local Registers of Deeds to issue a marriage license as an act of conscience.”

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in North Carolina under our recently amended state constitution and two state statutes. Public opinion on same-sex marriage is shifting, and courts, the N.C. General Assembly or the people of North Carolina might overturn those prohibitions. Unless and until they do, however, same-sex marriage is not legal here, and we cannot issue licenses for it.

Because same-sex couples cannot legally marry in North Carolina, the activists’ latest tactic is to record out-of-state marriage licenses among our county property records – a symbolic gesture doubtless meaningful to them but one with no legal force and no administrative purpose.

Believe it or not, that’s allowed. Because the General Assembly has failed to limit the recording of documents to property records and related legal instruments, citizens are free to record whatever they wish: marriage licenses, fishing licenses, poetry, patent applications, employment contracts, lunchtime doodles, terrorist manifestos or last night’s homework.

That legislative lapse invites some same-sex couples to inadvertently post their personal identifying information online – birth dates, Social Security numbers, etc. – where identity thieves can easily steal it. And it imposes needless work on our staffs and extra costs on taxpayers. Other Registers and I object to that misuse of our offices, and we believe the General Assembly should clarify the recording law. After all, we are taxpayer-funded Registers of Deeds, not Registers of Miscellany.

Until the law changes, should Registers, as an act of conscience on behalf of our staffs and county taxpayers, refuse to record such a documentary potpourri? Or should we follow what we believe is a misguided law?

It is the duty of Registers of Deeds to uphold the law as it is, period.

If citizens want to change the law to allow same-sex marriage or anything else, they must appeal to the legislature, as we Registers sometimes do, or petition the courts. No one should ask us to breach our solemn oaths by donning the purloined raiments of legislators and judges. Gay or straight, that’s not what you elected us to do.

Laura M. Riddick

Raleigh

The writer, a Republican, is Wake County’s five-term Register of Deeds.

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