RC Courthouse & Same Sex Marriages

Rutherford-County-CourthouseRUTHERFORD COUNTY, N.C. – Want to get married? Head on down to the Rutherford County courthouse for your license. According to the county website, if you are at least 18 years of age, you only need the following items to attain your marriage license:

  •  Drivers’s license or picture ID
  •  Social Security card
  •  Certified copy of birth certificate is required if Photo ID is not available.

Marriage Licenses are issued Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and cost $60. The marriage license is good for sixty days from the date it is issued.

Can’t wait to get married? In Rutherford County, not only are all of the magistrates authorized to perform the ceremony, they are also willing to perform same sex marriages. However the same situation is not to be found in neighboring McDowell County, a part of Judicial District 29A.

gay-marriageThe passing of House Bill 2 gave magistrates the right:

” to recuse from performing all lawful marriages under this Chapter based upon any sincerely held religious objections. Such recusal shall be upon notice to the chief district court judge and is in effect for at least six months from the time delivered to the chief district court judge. The recusing magistrate may not perform any marriage under this Chapter until the recusal is rescinded in writing. The chief district court judge shall ensure that all individuals issued a marriage license seeking to be married before a magistrate may marry.”

Senate Bill 2 protects the magistrate from being charged or convicted under General Statute 14-230 for willfully failing to discharge the duties of the office.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in the state since mid-October, when U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn nullified the state’s voter-approved ban. His ruling followed a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike down Virginia’s gay marriage ban. The 4th Circuit court has jurisdiction over North Carolina.

In the aftermath, some magistrates resigned because they objected to officiating at same-sex ceremonies. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) distributed a memo saying it is the magistrates’ duty to comply with court orders requiring equal treatment.

Senate Bill 2 was filed altering the requirements of the job because the AOC would not make accommodations for magistrates who objected on religious grounds to officiating at same-sex weddings.

If all magistrates in a jurisdiction opt out of performing ceremonies, the AOC is responsible for making sure magistrates are available to officiate at appointed times.

Steve Owens, Clerk of Superior Court
Steve Owens, Clerk of Superior Court

Steve Owens, Clerk of Superior Court in Rutherford County, shares the responsibility to  “ensure that marriages before a magistrate are available to be performed at least a total of 10 hours per week, over at least three business days per week.” G.S. 7A-292(b).

Chief district court judges have the authority in accordance with G.S. 7A-146(9), to assign magistrates from other counties within the district to perform marriages.

If all magistrates in a district have recused themselves from performing marriages, the chief district court judge shall notify the AOC Director, using Request for Temporary Magistrate Assignment for the Solemnization of Marriages, AOC-A-247, so that alternate coverage may be arranged to ensure that a magistrate is available in the district to perform marriages as required by law.

During the period between recusal of all magistrates in the district and the designation by the AOC Director of a magistrate to perform marriages in the jurisdiction, the chief district court judge or such other district court judge as may be designated by the chief district court judge shall be deemed a magistrate for the purposes of performing marriages under this Chapter. G.S. 51-5.5(c).

Since McDowell County currently has no magistrates available for any marriages, magistrates from Rutherfordton are swapping out for portions of the work week to meet the magistrate availability requirements.

The coverage of marriage ceremonies in Rutherford County is never in jeopardy though. Owens explained that Rutherford County currently has double coverage 3 days a week in Rutherfordton at the courthouse. This overlap of time allows the loaning of magistrates to McDowell County to meet the AOC requirements.

“No part of our oath of office allows us to pick and choose in doing our job,” said Owens, Clerk of Superior Court. “We are doing the job we were hired to do.”

Nearly two years after North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment recognizing marriage only as a union between a man and a woman, a federal court judge overturned the ban allowing gay and lesbian couples across the state to marry immediately.

However, if you live in McDowell County you might want to call ahead to check magistrate availability.