[N.b. – This post contains links to many primary documents, so click away!]
In the news this week is N.C. Senate Bill 2 (2015), which provides for a right of magistrates and assistant & deputy registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages (or ostensibly, any marriage), or, in the case of assistant and deputy registers of deeds, issuing marriage licenses, due to “sincerely held religious beliefs”. Most recently the bill has been vetoed by Governor McCrory, and there is likely more wrangling to come between the General Assembly, the Governor, and perhaps the Courts, if the veto is overridden.
Immediately, I thought of the biggest event in our State’s history that caused similarly-situated government officials to, for one reason or another, not perform their duties: the Stamp Act of 1765 (5 Geo. III, c.12). Hopefully everyone remembers from high school that the Stamp Act sought to tax the American colonies in various ways related to paper goods and legal documents, in an effort to offset some of the Crown’s expenses during the treasury-draining Seven Years War (much of which had been spent defending the colonies from the French and various Native American allies).
What caused me to draw a connection between S.B. 2 and the Stamp Act response was this fundamental question: when confronted with a duty of one’s office that an official either does not want to perform, or is being forced by others not to perform, is it more desirable (from a law and order standpoint) that the official resign (as opponents to S.B. 2 would argue) or to protest/ignore the dictates of the law (as S.B. 2 would permit as a matter of law). I of course recognize that the Stamp Act and same-sex marriage are apples and oranges, and that any comparison between the legislation or judicial decisions at issue would be useless. A comparison of the Stamp Act reactions, however, would at least be interesting. For reasons you’ll soon see, the response was mixed; matters are further complicated by the fact that, for the most part, officials with duties under the Stamp Act in North Carolina resigned and/or swore to ignore the Act under a degree of duress from protestors, a condition not (yet) seen in N.C. relating to same-sex marriage.