By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
June 12, 2015
RALEIGH – Thursday, lawmakers in the North Carolina House overrode Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of SB 2- Magistrates Recusal from Civil Ceremonies by a vote of 69-41. The state Senate overrode the Governor’s veto Monday, June 1st, 32-16.
The new law allows magistrates and registers of deeds to opt-out of the performance of same-sex marriages, if it violates their faith. Magistrates and register of deeds that choose to recuse themselves must agree to perform no civil ceremonies. Recusals are for a minimum of six months and continue until rescinded in writing. Officials choosing not to perform civil ceremonies for sincerely held religious objections will not be subject to disciplinary actions or prosecution.
Although a religious accommodation is afforded public officials, register of deeds are still required to ensure that all qualified applicants for marriage licenses are issued a license. Each chief district court judge is required to ensure that marriages performed by a magistrate are available to be performed at least ten hours per week over at least three business days.
“We have said all along that the proposed law strikes a reasonable balance between the current law of the land and the religious liberties of people of faith who serve the public and have sincerely held religious views against same-sex marriage,” said Dr. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “It’s nothing less than tyrannical to tell these folks that if they want to continue serving as a public official, then they have to abandon their First Amendment rights.”
Matthew Staver, head of Liberty Counsel (LC), with law offices in Florida, Virginia and Washington D.C. hailed the override as a revival for religious freedom in North Carolina.
While the bill was making its way through the North Carolina General Assembly, Liberty Counsel had filed suit and gone to court to defend the state’s magistrates. Staver said his group will now dismiss their lawsuit and offer its pro-bono counsel to defend the law.
Other First Amendment rights law firms such as Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) may also offer their services in defense of the legislation.
According to WRAL news, Mark Kleinschmidt, the openly gay mayor of Chapel Hill said that his city and other Orange County towns were exploring their legal options to challenge the new law. Lawyers from the Campaign for Southern Equality also predicted a lawsuit that would challenge the measure. Jack Sussman, a Charlotte attorney who represented The United Church of Christ in their court challenge to strike down North Carolina’s constitutional marriage amendment, alleged the legislation was “nothing more than state sanctioned discrimination” that must be fought.
Equality NC, the state’s premier advocacy group for gay rights said that they were also looking at options for bringing suit against SB 2.
“I think it goes without saying SB 2 will be challenged by those who define religious freedom as no more than religious opinion and something to be practiced nowhere except in the confines of your own home or houses of worship,” said Dr. Creech. “Their intent is to rewrite the definition of religious liberty via the courts – just as they have rewritten the meaning of marriage. They have to do this to essentially silence all voices of opposition to homosexual behavior.”
But Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the primary sponsor of SB 2, says he believes the new law meets constitutional muster and will overcome the lawsuits levied against it.
Governor McCrory assailed the override vote. He opined that it was “a disappointing day for the rule of law.” “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,” he said.
Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, however, said, “It’s hard to believe that any governor, much a less a conservative one, would veto a bill protecting the religious freedoms of his constituents. The House and Senate made the right call in overriding Gov. McCrory’s ill-advised veto, and we are grateful for their continued leadership in fighting to preserve this fundamental American freedom.”
North Carolina and Utah are two states that have passed legislation providing a religious exemption for court officials who object to officiating same-sex marriages.
The override of the Governor’s veto makes the bill law immediately.