Despite Guv’s Veto, N.C. Weighs Passing ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill

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North Carolina state lawmakers are not letting their governor’s veto of a “religious freedom” bill stop them from trying to push through the controversial proposal, which would let local authorities opt out of officiating same-sex marriages. The North Carolina House will be back in session Monday evening to potentially vote on Senate Bill 2, which Republican Governor Pat McCrory previously vetoed out of constitutional concerns. Last week, the state’s Republican-led Senate — by a 32 to 16 vote — did its part to override his veto, which requires a three-fifths majority in both chambers.

Like similar legislation in Indiana and Arkansas, the proposal is drawing the condemnation of civil rights groups and the business community for appearing to undermine same-sex marriage, which became legal in the state last fall and could be expanded nationwide pending an upcoming Supreme Court ruling.

Critics say North Carolina’s proposal is actually much broader, because unlike the Indiana legislation, it does not weigh officials’ religious objections against “compelling governmental interests.” Furthermore, as a possible attempt to skirt legal challenges, the bill does not name religious objections to gay couples specifically, but says officials can recuse themselves from “all lawful marriages,” if they have “any sincerely held religious objection,” which critics say opens the door to discrimination against all sorts of couples, not just gay ones.

The legislation applies to magistrates, who perform civil ceremonies, and reigsters of deeds, who grant marriage licenses. Those who wish to opt out of performing a marriage on religious grounds have to recuse themselves from their marriage duties for at lease six months.

“Religious freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed under our state and federal constitutions—and one that our state’s public servants shouldn’t have to leave at the door,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Senate Leader Phil Berger, said in a press release earlier this month.

While McCrory said he believes “marriage is between a man and a woman,” he said in his veto statement 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.”

The North Carolina House, also Republican-led, will be back in session Monday evening to weigh whether to buck McCrory’s opposition to the legislation. However, their session does not end until the fall, MSNBC reports, giving them weeks to make their next move.

House Speaker Tim Moore told the Associated Press last week he would not advance the override measure until he secured a voter count. According to the Washington Blade, its fate is unclear as 10 House members did not vote when the chamber previously voted to pass the legislation.

“We remain grateful for the governor’s veto and we look to the North Carolina House to do the right thing and stand by his decision,” Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro said in a release.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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