Justice

North Carolina Senate Overrides Veto Of Religious Objection Bill

On Monday evening, LGBT advocates suffered defeat in North Carolina as the state senate voted to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s (R) veto, thus bringing back to life a bill that will, if passed, enable state magistrates and court officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages based on a religious objection to them.

How did we get to this point?

The bill passed the state legislature last week, but McCrory vetoed it on Friday, saying 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." On Monday, the Senate defied McCrory by overriding his veto with a 32-16 vote. The legislation will return to the Republican-led House, which previously passed the bill with a wide margin.

“If the federal courts say [the marriages] will be performed, they will be performed,” Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) said prior to the vote. “But if someone takes a job, they don’t park their First Amendment rights at the door. They are entitled to exercise those rights.”

How would this bill work?

Those who claim a  "sincerely held religious objection" to performing same-sex marriages will lose all marriage performance privileges for six months minimum. Regardless, LGBT advocates are concerned that this will stall same-sex marriages and potentially stir up discriminatory lawsuits in the state. As of last week, 338 same-sex marriages have been performed in North Carolina since October when a federal district court ruled that the state's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Sen. Angela Bryant (D) said that the religious grounds objection "is putting local officials at risk to be challenged for discrimination," not to mention an excuse for unfairness.

"We are setting them [up] to play out those prejudices within this loophole," she said.

Berger, however, is certain that this won't mean same-sex marriages will become impossible in the state.

"If a same-sex couple wants to get married in North Carolina, they will have the opportunity to get married in North Carolina," he said.

Conservative group Concerned Women for America expressed support for the legislation, arguing that religious individuals should not have to forgo their beliefs to perform same-sex marriage duties.

"Every American is guaranteed the freedom to live and work consistent with their faith without unnecessary government interference," said Sheri Miller, state director for Concerned Women for America. "The government shouldn't have a license to punish Americans for exercising these basic civil rights." 

This comes two months after Indiana passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that would have allowed businesses to use religious beliefs as a defense against allegations of sexual orientation-based discrimination. Indiana later passed a fix that took that provision out of the law. Arkansas went on to consider a similar law shortly thereafter, but backed down following nationwide criticism.