North Carolina Governor Vows to Veto Bill That Allows Court Officials to Recuse Themselves From Issuing Marriage Licenses to Same-sex Couples Based on Religious Beliefs

PHOTO CREDIT: Associated Press / Gerry Broome
PHOTO CREDIT: Associated Press / Gerry Broome

Rebuking his fellow Republicans, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory vowed Thursday to veto legislation passed hours before by the state legislature that would let court officials recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.

“I recognize that for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman,” McCrory said in a statement released shortly after lawmakers in the House approved the bill in a largely partisan 67–43 landslide.

“However,” he continued, “we are a nation and a state of laws. 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.”

Groups that advocate for LGBT rights praised the governor Thursday evening, including the ACLU, which called the bill “a transparent attempt to deny gay and lesbian couples the freedom to marry.”

The North Carolina Senate passed the bill in February, where it lay dormant for months before being revived Wednesday. But the governor’s objections were no secret to lawmakers in the House.

In a March interview with WFAE, McCrory was opposed to the measure. “At this time,” the governor said, “I would not sign it the way it’s written because … 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 to the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Legislators backing the bill have argued it would stake out a middle ground between honoring religious conscience of public employees and adhering to a federal judge’s October ruling that struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriages. Eight magistrates in the state resigned after the federal court decision.

“I really didn’t know we were going to take up this bill today,” said Rep. John Blust, who voted for the measure in a preliminary vote Wednesday. “On the scramble, I’ve been trying to get to read the bill.”

The bill says that every magistrate, assistant register of deeds, and deputy register of deeds has “the right to recuse from performing all lawful marriages … based upon any sincerely held religious objection.” They may also be recused from issuing marriage licenses.

Court officials could seek a recusal for up to six months — during which time they could not perform any other marriages — and the recusal could be based on a religious objection to any type marriage, including between same-sex couples. However, the state would still be required to marry any qualified couple seeking a license.

“The chief district court judge shall ensure that all individuals issued a marriage license seeking to be married before a magistrate may marry,” the bill states.

Blust, however, noted that that provision could be problematic.

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SOURCE: Buzzfeed, Dominic Holden