The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday December 4th

NC General Assembly clashes with governor over a bill concerning gay marriage

The bill would allow court officials to recuse themselves from duties due to religious beliefs.

The N.C. House joined the Senate Thursday in overriding Gov. McCrory's veto of a bill allowing magistrates, assistant registers of deeds and deputy registers of deeds to opt out of performing marriages due to any "seriously held religious objection." 

Known as the religious freedom bill, Senate Bill 2 requires a six-month leave from officiating all marriages after such a recusal. 

North Carolina is the second state, following Utah, with such a law. 

The House has yet to vote on a possible veto override. McCrory vetoed the bill May 28 only hours after its legislative approval, despite his public support of marriage being defined as between a man and a woman.

“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; therefore, I will veto Senate Bill 2,” McCrory said in a statement.

Jonah Hermann, a spokesman for Equality N.C., said he believes in the protection of religion by the Constitution; however, he sees the bill as an attack on the LGBT community.

“We shouldn’t be putting up hurdles for LGBT people to get married, and when magistrates start recusing themselves, it will affect not just LGBT couples but also straight couples, interracial couples, interfaith couples; it will affect everybody.”

When recused, magistrates, assistant registers of deeds and deputy registers of deeds must stop performing civil duties for a minimum of six months, according to the bill. Hermann said he foresees a logistical problem with the nature of the bill, as there are not enough magistrates for the bill to be plausible.

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, said her organization has been working hard to lobby for the passing of the bill, as she believes religion affects all aspects of life and is not a practice restrained to home and church.

“Governor McCrory has basically vetoed freedom,” Fitzgerald said. “The founders of our state and of our nation thought enough of religious freedom to include it in the First Amendment and the first articles of our Constitution, and the governor has decided to deny us of those basic freedoms.”

Fitzgerald said court officials should not be torn between their deep religious beliefs and their job.

“There is no constitutional right to have one of these people to perform a service for you, and that is what the other side is arguing,” she said. “The legislature has authority to establish the duties for public office holders.”

Mike Meno, communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, praised Gov. McCrory for vetoing the bill, as he believes its implementation would create a risky precedent for the state.

“Religious liberty is one of our most cherished freedoms, but it should never be used as an excuse to discriminate or deny services to people, especially government services, to people who are legally eligible,” Meno said.

Aside from logistical concerns, Meno said it is important for the issue to be looked at through the eyes of a couple.

“Couples shouldn’t have to spend their wedding day going from courthouse to courthouse hoping to meet the religious criteria of their local magistrate,” he said. “They should not be trapped in a maze of government bureaucracy.”

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article said Gov. Pat McCrory's veto of Senate Bill 2 had been overturned after a vote in the N.C. House of Representatives. That vote has yet to happen. The article has been updated to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

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