Smithfield: Opinion

After ruling, respecting both sides

In the days that followed a court ruling, two Johnston County officials made polar-opposite decisions about same-sex weddings. We respect them both.

On the one end, Registrar of Deeds Craig Olive said his office stood ready to issue marriage licenses in accordance with state law. For Mr. Olive, that wasn’t a political, moral or religious statement; it wasn’t even an acknowledgment that a federal judge had overruled North Carolina voters on same-sex marriage. Instead, it was Mr. Olive’s way of saying gay and lesbian couples could expect the same level of service that all other customers in his office enjoy.

(Mr. Olive and I were talking the other day about the fact that he faced no opposition in the November election. I told him it was losing proposition to run against the incumbent whose office provides the best customer service of any in Johnston County.)

On the other end of the gay-marriage response, a Johnston magistrate reportedly quit his job because his religious beliefs would not allow him to perform gay unions. How many among us hold so strongly to our church’s tenets that we would quit our jobs rather than violate those tenets?

If we had our druthers, no one would have to quit his job to remain faithful to his beliefs. In other words, we would have preferred that the magistrate be able to perform other duties while coworkers handled weddings. But we suppose the magistrate might have one day found himself the only magistrate available when a same-sex couple wanted to be married. At that point, he would have had to quit on the spot or his boss would have had to fire him, again on the spot.

(An aside here: If we agree with the Constitution, which says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” does it then follow that government cannot be accommodating of religion? Put another way, if North Carolina law says magistrates can perform weddings and same-sex couples can wed, can the law also allow a magistrate to abstain from performing a same-sex union?)

America and North Carolina are changing; some will argue for the better; some will argue for the worse. We’re just thankful to live in a country where it’s possible to respect decisions on both sides of an emotionally charged judicial ruling.