Metro Weekly

North Carolina House overrides veto of gay marriage “opt out” bill

State officials may refuse to perform or issue licenses for any marriage by citing religious objections

North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh, N.C. (Photo credit: Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons).
North Carolina State Capitol in Raleigh – Photo: Daderot, via Wikimedia Commons

The North Carolina House of Representatives on Thursday overrode a veto by Gov. Pat McCrory (R) of a bill that allows state officials to recuse themselves from performing or issuing a license for any marriage they feel violates their religious beliefs. This comes after the Senate also voted to override McCrory’s veto. The measure has now become law in the Tar Heel State. 

The bill allows a magistrate, assistant register of deeds or deputy register of deeds to notify the chief district judge or register of deeds that they feel participating in a marriage would violate their religious convictions. Other arrangements can then be made to allow the couple to obtain a marriage license or get married. The bill also protects those who recuse themselves from any potential lawsuits from people who feel they have been discriminated against. 

In his veto message, McCrory reiterated his objection to same-sex marriage, but said that “no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.” Lawmakers admitted they were spurred to pass the bill and override the veto because of a court ruling last October that overturned North Carolina’s Amendment One, which banned same-sex marriage. But the law was written so broadly that officials could recuse themselves from other marriages to which they object, such as a marriage between people of two different faiths or even an interracial marriage.

“[It’s] unconstitutional, and will undoubtedly be challenged in court,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. “This bill, which will now become law, is discriminatory and treats gay and lesbian couples as second class citizens. We are more determined than ever to achieve full equality for LGBT people in North Carolina and to ensure that LGBT youth know that they are not alone.”

“To authorize elected officials to ignore the law based on religious belief, in the words of Justice Antonin Scalia, invites ‘anarchy’ — every elected official would be a law unto himself or herself,” said Luke Largess of the Charlotte-based Law Firm, Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.  He also raised the possibility that pro-LGBT groups will sue over the law, in an effort to have it declared unconstitutional by the courts.

“We are disappointed to see the House vote against the legal rights and best interests of LGBT people and of the entire state of North Carolina,” said Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro. “From the business community to local leaders to the governor, North Carolinians have stood up and said [this bill] is deeply problematic and discriminatory legislation. While it targets same-sex couples, in the process, it creates problems for all North Carolinians who seek use of taxpayer-funded public services.”

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