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Ansley v. Warren

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

June 28, 2017

KAY DIANE ANSLEY; CATHERINE MCGAUGHEY; CAROL ANN PERSON; THOMAS ROGER PERSON; KELLEY PENN; SONJA GOODMAN, Plaintiffs - Appellants,
v.
MARION WARREN, in his Official Capacity as Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts, Defendant-Appellee. NORTH CAROLINA VALUES COALITION; THOMAS MORE LAW CENTER; BRENDA BUMGARNER; CHRISTIAN LEGAL SOCIETY; NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS, Amici Supporting Appellee.

          Argued: May 10, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, at Asheville. Max O. Cogburn, Jr., District Judge. (1:16-cv-00054-MOC-DLH)

         ARGUED:

          S. Luke Largess, TIN FULTON WALKER & OWEN, PLLC, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellants.

          Olga Eugenia Vysotskaya de Brito, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jacob H. Sussman, John W. Gresham, Cheyenne N. Chambers, TIN FULTON WALKER & OWEN, PLLC, Charlotte, North Carolina; Meghann K. Burke, BRAZIL & BURKE, P.A., Asheville, North Carolina; Crystal M. Richardson, LAW OFFICE OF CRYSTAL M. RICHARDSON, Charlotte, North Carolina, for Appellants.

          Josh Stein, North Carolina Attorney General, Amar Majmundar, Special Deputy Attorney General, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Deborah J. Dewart, Swansboro, North Carolina, for Amicus North Carolina Values Coalition. Richard Thompson, Kate Oliveri, THOMAS MORE LAW CENTER, Ann Arbor, Michigan; B. Tyler Brooks, MILLBERG GORDON STEWART PLLC, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Amicus Thomas More Law Center. Mary E. McAlister, Lynchburg, Virginia, Mathew D. Staver, Anita L. Staver, Horatio G. Mihet, LIBERTY COUNSEL, Orlando, Florida, for Amicus Brenda Bumgarner. Kimberlee Wood Colby, CENTER FOR LAW & RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, Springfield, Virginia, for Amici Christian Legal Society and National Association of Evangelicals.

          Before WILKINSON, KEENAN, and THACKER, Circuit Judges.

         Affirmed by published opinion. Judge Wilkinson wrote the opinion, in which Judge Keenan and Judge Thacker joined.

          WILKINSON, Circuit Judge

         Three couples assert that North Carolina's Senate Bill 2 ("S.B. 2"), which allows state magistrates to recuse themselves from performing marriages on account of a religious objection, violates the Establishment Clause. But the plaintiffs, all of whom are either married or engaged, do not claim that the state has impeded their right to get married. Instead, they challenge the religious exemption as taxpayers who object to the alleged spending of public funds in aid of religion. In light of the Supreme Court's admonitions on the narrow scope of taxpayer standing, we affirm the judgment of the district court that plaintiffs lack standing to press this claim.

         I.

         At the heart of this lawsuit is a debate over the extent to which religious accommodations can coexist with the constitutional right to same-sex marriage. In 2012, the citizens of North Carolina voted to amend their state constitution to limit the definition of marriage to heterosexual couples. Two years later, a federal district court ruled that the restriction against same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment. See Gen. Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Resinger, 12 F.Supp.3d 790 (W.D. N.C. 2014). The director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts ("NCAOC") instructed state magistrates to begin conducting marriage ceremonies for all couples presenting a valid marriage license. Under North Carolina law ...


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