Shanna Rivera | Charlotte, N.C. Family Law Attorney
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision that same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The clause prohibits states from denying any person the equal protection of the laws. This means that people in similar conditions and circumstances must be treated in the same manner by the states.
The Court’s decision was met with disapproval from some people on the basis of religion. Our country’s fundamental principles of Freedom of Religion give Larry Pittman and his fellow Representatives in the North Carolina General Assembly the right to introduce House Bill 780 based on their beliefs.
In short, House Bill 780 asserted that the United States Supreme Court went beyond its constitutional powers when it struck down the Marriage Amendment of 2012. As a result of the alleged overstep of power, the bill proposed that the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision was null and void in the state of North Carolina. In turn, the 2012 Amendment which declares that marriage is “between one man and one woman” and “is the only … legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State,” would be upheld and enforceable. The bill goes on to say that the Court went beyond its authority, not only because the Amendment was voted on by the people of North Carolina, but also because it exceeded “the decree of Almighty God.” Although the Representatives were within their right to sponsor this bill, there are legal implications that will likely prevent it from becoming law.
One such implication is the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution under the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause forbids the government from establishing an official religion and prohibits actions that favor one religion over another. The line the Establishment Clause creates is a bit blurred, and has been crossed by various decisions by the Supreme Court. However, the Court has ruled that overtly religious displays by the government are unconstitutional. By directly quoting the bible in House Bill 780, it could be argued that the Representatives violated the Establishment Clause by favoring Christian beliefs.
The day after House Bill 780 was filed, House Speaker Tim Moore vowed that he will not allow the bill to move forward this legislative session due to “strong constitutional concerns” and “given that the U.S. Supreme Court has firmly ruled on the issue.” Lacking support from leadership, the bill was referred to the House Rules Committee and will not be heard. If House Bill 780 was to ever become law, there would likely be immediate court action once a same-sex couple was denied their fundamental rights, which would ultimately bring the bill before the Supreme Court of the United States. However, since House Bill 780 is not going to be heard, it should not impact a same-sex couple’s ability to exercise their right to marry.