Cheers, Jeers Greet NC's New Magistrate Law
Magistrates in North Carolina can now refuse to perform same-sex marriages on religious grounds. This after the House voted Thursday to override Governor McCrory's veto of the legislation.
WFAE’s Tom Bullock reports on the vote in the House and reaction to North Carolina’s new law.
After spending more than a week working up enough support to override the governor’s veto it took House Speaker Tim Moore just four and a half minutes to go from bring up the bill to saying this:
"The motion does pass by the required three-fifths vote. Senate Bill 2 having been overridden now becomes law."
House Minority Leader Larry Hall called it a "sad day for North Carolina" in a press conference afterward, adding "the institution took a big hit today on the way this was done."
That's because ten members of the House were absent. That meant it took 66 votes to override the veto. And the finally tally was 69 voting to override - three votes shy of what would have been needed if all representatives were in attendance.
When they take the office, magistrates are required to take an oath to uphold the laws of the land. Governor Pat McCrory, speaking on Charlotte Talks earlier this year, said that’s why he opposes the bill.
"I don’t think you should have an exemption or a carve out when you swore an oath to the constitution of North Carolina or the constitution of the United States."
McCrory reiterated that belief in a statement:
"It’s a disappointing day for the rule of law and the process of passing legislation in North Carolina. I will continue to stand up for conservative principles that respect and obey the oath of office for public officials across our state and nation," McCrory said.
That’s flawed logic, says Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition.
"There’s no constitutional right to have a certain magistrate marry you. But there is a constitutional right to exercise your religious belief."
Magistrates and registers of deeds in North Carolina now have the ability to opt-out of performing same sex marriages on religious grounds. But if they do so they will also be barred from performing any other marriages. That makes this law fair, says Fitzgerald.
"The bill is written where it does not discriminate and if they want to waste money on going to court than that’s their choice," she says.
Both the ACLU and Equality NC are now looking towards the courts.
"I don’t think that this is constitutional," says Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC. "Legally the intent is very clear, to be discriminatory."
Sarah Preston, acting executive director of the North Carolina chapter of the ACLU agrees – and worries this law sets a dangerous precedent.
"You could have magistrates refusing to perform marriages for interfaith couples, inter-racial couples."
Because the wording of the exemption clause in North Carolina’s new law is broad enough that any religious belief could be grounds for magistrates to recuse themselves and there is precedent for that in North Carolina.