North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C. (Photo credit: Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons).
The North Carolina legislature on Thursday approved a bill that would allow state officials to recuse themselves from providing marriage licenses or performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples by claiming doing so violates their religious beliefs.
The bill will be sent to Gov. Pat McCrory (R) for his signature. According to the text of the bill, a magistrate, assistant register of deeds or deputy register will have the right to recuse themselves from having to perform any marriage that they believe violates their principles, based on a “sincerely held religious objection.” Those individuals must notify their superiors, either the chief district court judge or the register of deeds, of their decision to recuse themselves, and those superiors will be tasked with finding an alternative magistrate to perform the ceremony and ensuring that all who wish to be married can obtain a marriage license. The act also protects those who recuse themselves from threat of legal action.
Pro-LGBT groups decried the legislature’s decision to pass the bill, noting that other states do not have a law that is as broad, and even the Texas legislature failed to move forward with a similar bill.
“It is shameful that this bill has passed our legislature,” said Luke Largess of the Charlotte (N.C.)-based Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and the lead counsel in General Synod of the UCC v. Reisinger, the lawsuit that lead to Amendment One — the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage — being struck down last October. “It is nothing more than state-sanctioned discrimination and a naked attempt to make a political statement without much care for how it hurts and demeans others. To be certain, if this bill becomes law, it will invite a new round of court challenges. Ultimately, like Amendment 1, this law will fail.”
The Campaign for Southern Equality, a nonprofit organization advocating for LGBT rights, has begun mobilizing supporters to call on McCrory to veto the bill.
“This discriminatory bill treats gay and lesbian couples as second-class citizens and distorts the true meaning of religious freedom,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “We urge Governor McCrory to veto this discriminatory bill. We have the freedom to practice religion in our place of worship and to hold private beliefs. But as Americans, we’ve agreed that we will be governed by the principles of equality and fairness in our public and civic life. Senate Bill 2 is discriminatory and rooted in animus — it must not become law.”