(RALEIGH) — After days of private vote counts and calendar delays until all the greens were present, The North Carolina House voted today (69-41) to override Governor Pat McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2, legislation that would allow county magistrates and other state employees to opt out of performing marriage ceremonies for religious reasons. The override needed 66 votes to pass.
With this vote the measure becomes law; the Senate passed the veto override earlier this month. It comes in the wake of a recent federal court decision that ruled North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, federal law requires all employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees’ strongly held religious beliefs.
“For the last 50 years, most employees have had a right to accommodation of religious beliefs under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” said Paul “Skip” Stam (R-Wake). “This is just a response to an absurd directive of the Administrative Office of the Courts that magistrates couldn’t be accommodated.”
Governor McCrory has rejected the civil rights argument, saying that magistrates still took an oath to uphold the law, regardless of whether or not they agreed with it.
“No public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the constitution… should be exempt from upholding that oath,” McCrory wrote in his May 28 veto message. McCrory also noted that he still opposes gay marriage.
Stam calls the governor’s oath argument “circular reasoning,” pointing out that the bill requires that if a magistrate recuses him or herself, another official must perform the ceremony. If the duty is removed, he says, there is no duty, and therefore no broken oath.
Senate Bill 2 gives officials the option of recusing themselves for six months from performing all marriage ceremonies, not just same-sex unions. It also requires that an official eligible to perform ceremonies be on duty during all the published hours a courthouse offers them. Supporters of Senate Bill 2 call it a compromise.
Today the governor called the override a “disappointing day for the rule of law and the process of passing legislation.”
McCrory said he will “continue to stand up for conservative principles that respect and obey the oath of office for public officials across our state and nation.”
This legislation follows a lawsuit filed in February against the NC Administrative Office of the Court by a current magistrate and a former magistrate. The suit claims that the AOC violates their religious rights by requiring them to perform same-sex marriages or face dismissal and possibly criminal charges.
House minority leader Larry Hall (D-Durham) said that McCrory vetoed the bill for the right reasons.
“We should not be in the business of citizens lying to the government and to the citizens of the state,” Hall said of magistrates who refuse to perform ceremonies.
“If they take their paycheck, they should be required to do all their duty,” Hall said. “We owe more to the value of an oath.”