McCrory vetoes same-sex marriage opt out for magistrates

Posted May 28, 2015
Updated May 29, 2015

— Within hours of the House giving final approval to a bill that would allow magistrates and other public officials to refuse to perform marriages for religious reasons, Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed the measure.

Senate Bill 2 would allow magistrates and employees of county register of deeds offices who object to same-sex marriage to recuse themselves from performing or recording any marriages, gay or straight, for a period of at least six months.

"I recognize that, for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman. However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer or magistrate, 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," McCrory said in a statement. Officials said Friday that McCrory vetoed the measure late Thursday.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore said they "respect but disagree with" McCrory's decision, but they stopped short of saying whether they plan to override it.

"Senate Bill 2 is necessary because a bureaucracy failed to make reasonable accommodations and instead forced some magistrates to make an impossible choice between their core religious beliefs and their jobs," Berger and Moore said in a joint statement. "A majority of the people’s elected representatives in both chambers agreed that this bill strikes an appropriate balance between the expansion of rights for some and our constitutionally-protected freedom of religion.”

The Senate has enough votes to override the veto, but it's unclear whether the House could also sustain an override. The final House vote on the bill was 67-43, which barely meets the three-fifths threshold of present members for an override.

Groups on both sides of the debate were quick to respond to the promised veto.

"We urge the General Assembly to keep government services open for all North Carolinians by sustaining the governor’s veto,” Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. "Senate Bill 2 is a transparent attempt to deny gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry, but it is so broadly written that it would also allow court officers to deny services to interracial couples, interfaith couples and others. No couple should have to spend their wedding day rushing from one courthouse to another trying to prove they meet the religious criteria of a magistrate."

"Senate Bill 2 will protect the fundamental American freedom to exercise one's religious beliefs, and it is unacceptable for any Governor who calls himself 'conservative' to veto legislation like SB 2," Jessica Wood, spokeswoman for the North Carolina Values Coalition, said in a statement.

House debate heated for second day

Under the proposal, if all magistrates in a county recuse themselves from performing marriages, then the chief judge must request an outside magistrate or perform the marriages himself or herself. Similarly, if all employees of a register of deeds office recuse themselves, the elected register must issue marriage licenses.

The bill also specifies that civil marriages must be available in every county at least 10 hours a week, spread out over three business days. Currently, there is no minimum time set in state law, so the availability of civil marriage varies widely from one county to the next.

"What this bill does is provide a balancing act," said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union. "That ensures that marriages are performed in a blind fashion."

Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, noted that he would never be allowed to pick whom he teaches in his classes at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

"We are state employees, and as such, we have an obligation to teach everyone," Luebke said. "It’s a shame this bill is even on the calendar."

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said the opt out is needed to conform to employment discrimination law.

"They're entitled to accommodation," Stam said. "We can change the duties. We can change the authority of the magistrate. The individual magistrate does not have such and such a duty."

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, noted that North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2012 defining marriage in the state as being between one man and one woman, effectively barring same-sex marriage.

Federal judges threw out that amendment last fall after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found a similar law in Virginia to be unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing the legality of such laws nationwide.

"These magistrates, by refusing to do this, are seeking to uphold the constitution as enacted by the people," Pittman said.

Following the federal court ruling last fall, North Carolina's Administrative Office of the Courts issued a directive to magistrates statewide to perform same-sex marriages or face disciplinary action and possible firing.

Berger sponsored the bill after a magistrate in his Rockingham County district resigned rather than preside over a same-sex wedding.

"We understand that everybody doesn't agree on everything all the time, and we don't try to force people to change their beliefs just to comply with what other folks would like to do or have a right to do," Berger said after the bill cleared the House.


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  • Evo Lution Jun 1, 2015
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    The site is owned by John Howard. He's likely just a crazy guy that wrote an entire act that is likely littered with inconsistencies like the one I pointed out.

  • Sam Nada May 30, 2015
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    This has nothing to do with same-sex marriage. It's a completely separate issue, but apparently some segment of the right is trying to pretend they're intertwined, and wants to use this issue to roll back marriage equality. I'd rate your chances of success about the same as rolling back slavery laws, or taking the vote away from women. It just makes you look desperate, ignorant, and silly. You've lost the same-sex marriage battle, time to move on.

  • Evo Lution May 30, 2015
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    I'll go with you're just crazy. First off, you say this "act" would allow for gamete donors but then say married couples can only procreate with their own genes effectively making donating sperm or eggs pointless unless the donor later becomes infertile. So now you are denying infertile opposite sex couples the ability to procreate just to try and make same sex marriage "incompatible ". Next problem is that marriage and children are not intertwined. You can get married and not have children. Go back to the drawing board. This act would never get passed.

  • John Howard May 30, 2015
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    The Natural Marriage and Reproduction Act wouldn't ban IVF or surrogates or gamete donors, because they all combine a sperm of a man and an egg of a woman. It would ban trying to make a person any other way, including cloning and using stem cells to create offspring of a same-sex couple and transgender person as their new gender. It would also prescribe the effect of marriage in every state as approving and allowing the couple to procreate with their own genes. That makes marriage incompatible with same-sex couples, and the act would explicitly void all same-sex marriages in every state.

  • Evo Lution May 29, 2015
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    John Howard, you are clearly drunk or crazy. This made up Act that you suggest we support makes no sense. People's reproductive rights are not under assault and passing a law that you apparently want to prohibit science from helping to create babies would not prohibit gay marriage as you seem to imply. A same sex couple may be marrying with no intention of having children. Perhaps you need to explain your Act better but you'll probably still get zero support.

  • Paul Maxwell May 29, 2015
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    The convoluted mental gymnastics that people exhibit merely to support ignorance, bigotry, and just general stupidity is amazing.

  • Tammy Rush May 29, 2015
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    That's ridiculous. First of all, the ONLY WAY to create a child is by "joining the sperm of a man and an egg of a woman". It doesn't work any other way. How other people go about joining the sperm with the egg is none of your business. If you try to outlaw IVF or surrogates you'd be doing a disservice to infertile straight couples. Second of all, same-sex marriage poses no threat to anyone's reproductive rights. You can still choose to have kids (or not) regardless of whether or not two men or two women are married to each other.

  • Hondo Creech May 29, 2015
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    That sounds like another unconsitutional law. You guys are batting a thousand here.

  • John Howard May 29, 2015
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    Please, someone call their Representative and Senators in Congress and tell them to stop same-sex marriage from being foisted on the whole country. Introduce the Natural MArriage and REproduction Act that ends same-sex marriage in every state by prohibiting creating a child except by joining a sperm of a man and a an egg of a woman, and protects the reproductive rights of marriage.

  • John Tavolacci May 29, 2015
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    BOTTOM LINE FOLKS... WE NEED TO GET THE REPUBLICANS OUT OF OFFICE! The Governor is up for re-election that's why he did what he did..
    Let's talk about FRACKING... Why don't we put it to a vote and see if the people of NC want it in our state..... Noooo, the REPUBLICANS are going Full Speed ahead of it... and they talk about less Government.... Give me a Break!