Metro Weekly

Cheat Sheet: North Carolina’s OTHER anti-gay bill

What you need to know about the North Carolina's anti-LGBT Senate Bill 2.

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

HB2, North Carolina’s anti-transgender law, is currently hogging the spotlight. Sparring lawsuits and election year posturing between LGBT groups, Tar Heel State lawmakers, and the federal government have meant that all attention is on HB2 and its obscene requirements for transgender people.

But another anti-gay bill — this one passed at the end of 2015 and attacking marriage equality for same-sex couples — is waiting in the wings for its court date. Here’s what’s we know about North Carolina’s “opt out” law — also known as Senate Bill 2.

What does Senate Bill 2 do?

Under North Carolina law, county magistrates perform civil marriage ceremonies. Senate Bill 2 will allow magistrates who claim a personal religious objection to same-sex marriage to “opt out” of performing those ceremonies.

Wait, so they can just refuse to marry them?

Yes, as long as they claim it’s against their religious beliefs, a North Carolina state or local government employee can refuse to help two same-sex people celebrate their love.

Who thought this was a good idea?

Senate Bill 2 was passed in 2015 as a response to a federal judge’s decision that overturned North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. Proponents have cast it as a bill that guarantees “religious freedom” for magistrates with deeply-held religious beliefs, so they don’t have to choose between job and faith.

Nobody’s buying that argument, surely?

Correct. Opponents say it’s discrimination against LGBT people masquerading as religious freedom, and a means of circumventing federal courts’ rulings in favor of marriage equality.

Are there any ways to get around an anti-gay magistrate?

The bill sets up a process for alternative arrangements, such as bringing in a magistrate — at taxpayer expense — from another county to solemnize same-sex marriages.

At taxpayer’s expense? So the public is footing the bill because a magistrate doesn’t like gay people?

Essentially. And there’s no repercussions for refusing to marry a couple. The magistrate can’t be sued for discrimination in court, thanks to specific wording in the bill.

Didn’t anyone try to stop it?

Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the bill after it passed, but Republican lawmakers overrode him.

What’s been the result of the bill’s passage?

Thirty-two magistrates across North Carolina have asked for a religious exemption from performing same-sex marriages. In McDowell County, for instance, all available magistrates asked for an exemption. In addition, Register of Deeds employees in five counties have asked for exemptions from filing or handling paperwork related to same-sex marriages.

Why is the law in court?

Lawyers for three couples have sued the state, arguing that the bill violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The case is known as Ainsley v. Warren.

What’s the court deciding on?

On Monday, Aug. 8, at 9:30 a.m. in Asheville, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn, Jr. will hear two arguments: First, whether he should dismiss the case, as the state of North Carolina argues, and second, whether to allow the right-wing law firm Liberty Counsel to intervene in the case.

What’s being said about Senate Bill 2:

“Senate Bill 2 expressly declares that a magistrate’s religious beliefs are superior to their oath of judicial office to uphold and support the federal constitution.And the law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs. That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment.” — Luke Largess, an attorney who is part of the legal team representing the three plaintiff couples.

“SB2 has been one of many cynical tactics targeted at the LGBTQ community that we have seen play out all across the country, and our beloved state. SB2 is a misrepresentation of one of the most fundamental American core values as it opens the door for discrimination against loving same-sex couples behind a veil of religious freedom.” — Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro.

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