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Oct 21, 2014

Equality NC Responds to N.C. Senate Leader's Anti-LGBT News Conference

RALEIGH, N.C. (October 21, 2014) -- Equality NC today responded to news that Senate Pro Temp Phil Berger would host a news conference with anti-LGBT leaders at the Rockingham County Courthouse​. The news conference coincides with Berger's efforts to challenge a federal court order​ ​allowing the freedom to marry in North Carolina​ ​and​ th​ose​ of anti-LGBT groups to​ ​encourage registers of deeds to violate​ ​the​ir duties to​​​ ​grant​ ​same​-​​sex ​marriages in the state.

"Today, Phil Berger not only intends to block the steps of the Rockingham County Courthouse to trot out his futile efforts to use our taxpayer dollars to challenge the freedom to marry in North Carolina, but also to stand with fringe, anti-LGBT groups who are encouraging state employees to violate a federal court order, their oaths of office, and the rights of LGBT North Carolinians," said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC. "How Sen. Phil Berger, who is an attorney, can use his position to mislead and intimidate civil servants in this way is unconscionable and reprehensible."

Sen. Phil Berger

Berger's news conference follows the release of an unsigned memo by two anti-LGBT organizations that went out to all North Carolina register of deeds offices. The memo from the so-called NC Values Coalition's Tami Fitzgerald and Washington-based Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) suggests that Registers of Deeds and their employees could refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples if their personal beliefs conflict. The misleading memo saying "registers of deeds are not forced to issue licenses contrary to their conscience," cites religious freedoms as a justification for not fulfilling a magistrate's oath of office.

Sgro added, "Almost a year ago to the day, Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, responded to news that Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger had decided to accept applications for marriage licenses from same-sex couples because to withhold them was contrary to his conscience and his understanding of the law. She told the Associated Press (October 15, 2013) 'You cannot change the law by breaking the law.'

Today, we echo those same words back to her. The law supports marriage equality, as we said it would, as even Thom Tillis himself said it would, albeit 18 years earlier than he predicted. And today when North Carolina's registers of deeds and magistrates swear an oath of office, in some cases putting their hand on a Bible to do, they serve all of North Carolina. They don't now get to claim a religious exemption for breaking that oath."

Sgro added, "Fitzgerald's group has said registers should not have to do anything 'contrary to their conscience' and encourages them to only uphold the laws they agree with. We know Drew Reisinger and many electeds for equality were forced for years by law and duty to issue licenses to only some couples and not others, contrary to their consciences."

"Where was Fitzgerald's call for a state employee's freedom to choose then?," Sgro asked.

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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