Politics & Government

McCrory vetoes bill to exempt magistrates from marriage

Chad Biggs (left) and his fiance, Chris Creech say their wedding vows in front of Wake County magistrate Dexter Williams at the Wake County Courthouse in Raleigh, N.C. Friday, October 10, 2014.
Chad Biggs (left) and his fiance, Chris Creech say their wedding vows in front of Wake County magistrate Dexter Williams at the Wake County Courthouse in Raleigh, N.C. Friday, October 10, 2014. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday vetoed a bill to allow magistrates to opt out of performing marriage if they have a religious objection.

His announcement came just hours after the N.C. House approved it in a 67-43 final vote Thursday.

“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 news release.

“However, 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.”

Opponents of the measure say it would allow discrimination against same-sex couples, though workers seeking the exemption couldn’t perform any type of wedding for at least a six-month period. Supporters say it effectively balances the rights of state employees who object to same-sex marriage and the rights of the couples seeking a wedding.

The bill is one of two contentious social measures facing McCrory. Lawmakers on Thursday also tentatively approved a bill that would make North Carolina the fourth state to require women to wait three days for an abortion. It also cut the numbers of doctors who could perform them.

McCrory has vetoed only three bills since taking office, two of which were overridden in both the House and Senate.

Thursday’s announcement came the day McCrory received a letter from a Catawba County executive who said he would take more than $20 million in business out of state if the bill became law. John Pope is chairman of the 750-employee Cargo Transporters.

“As a company based here that believes in FULL EQUALITY for our employees,” he wrote the governor, “we will not sit idly by and let the rogue legislators of this state ruin the business and employee recruiting opportunities for this state.”

Pope threatened to move what he said was a $20 million Freightliner order from Rowan County to Mexico. McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said the governor had vetoed the bill before seeing the letter.

Thursday’s House vote tally indicates that a three-fifths majority to override a veto might prove challenging for the Republican leadership.

About 61 percent of the legislators voting Thursday supported the bill, but 10 House members were absent or didn’t vote.

An override is more likely in the Senate, where the 32-16 vote on Feb. 25 represents two-thirds of the chamber.

McCrory made his reservations on Senate Bill 2 clear during a Charlotte radio interview in March: “I don’t think you should have an exemption when you took an oath to uphold … the constitution of North Carolina,” he said.

The veto puts McCrory at odds with GOP Senate leader Phil Berger – who sponsored the bill – and House Speaker Tim Moore, who voted in favor of it.

Shortly after McCrory announced the first veto of the legislative session that began in January, Berger and Moore issued a joint statement criticizing the move.

“We respect but disagree with the governor’s decision to veto Senate Bill 2, since the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees ‘the free exercise of religion,’” they said.

“Unfortunately, Senate Bill 2 is necessary because a bureaucracy failed to make reasonable accommodations and instead forced some magistrates to make an impossible choice between their core religious beliefs and their jobs.”

Equality North Carolina, an LGBT advocacy group, issued a statement praising McCrory for his veto.

“We applaud Gov. Pat McCrory’s promise to veto this discriminatory legislation and call on our legislature to follow their own oath to protect all North Carolinians by sustaining that veto,” executive director Chris Sgro said in a news release. “Both actions will send a strong message that no public official is exempt from the constitution they themselves have sworn to uphold and that all North Carolinians deserve equal access to state services under the law.”

Only one House member changed his mind between Wednesday’s initial 65-45 vote and Thursday’s final tally: Rules Chairman David Lewis, a Dunn Republican. Lewis voted against the bill on Wednesday but voted yes on Thursday.

“I spent a lot of time reflecting on the issue, and I think it’s important to recognize that there are quite a few fallacies in the arguments against the bill,” he said. “The right to choose who marries you and who doesn’t marry you isn’t a right, and that was misconveyed in the debate. The right is to get married, and this bill doesn’t infringe upon it.”

Rep. Charles Graham of Lumberton joined Rep. Ken Waddell of Columbus County as the only two Democrats supporting the bill. Graham hadn’t voted on Wednesday.

Rep. Rick Glazier, a Fayetteville Democrat, said the exemption for magistrates is only offered in Utah, and other states have turned similar proposals down. “We’re doing something that even Texas refused to do,” he said.

Some Democrats were already raising money from the outcry over the bill. Within minutes of the vote, Rep. Brian Turner of Asheville emailed supporters.

“This bill will end up in the courts wasting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars,” he said in the email. “Raleigh needs leaders who think jobs and education are better investments than lawsuits. That’s why I need you to invest $15, $25, or $50 today to send me back to Raleigh to focus on growing our local economy and investing in our teachers and kids.”

Abortion bill

Final passage of the abortion bill is expected Monday, sending the bill to a conference committee where House and Senate negotiators would try to resolve differences. It would then go to McCrory.

Supporters of abortion rights already have been reminding McCrory of a 2008 campaign promise. A coalition of progressive groups traveled the state this month with a rolling billboard that featured his picture and response when asked what further restrictions on abortion he would sign. “None,” McCrory replied.

Facing re-election, McCrory will have to weigh his personal feelings against the interests of his supporters, both in the electorate and in the legislature.

The sponsor of the magistrates bill is Berger, the Senate’s most powerful Republican. And McCrory is pushing lawmakers to approve his budget proposals as well as over $3 billion in bonds for transportation and infrastructure.

The Senate tentatively passed the abortion bill after a long and passionate debate.

Critics complained not only about the waiting period but the requirement that abortion providers be certified obstetrician/gynecologists, which abortion rights advocates say would limit the number of doctors who could perform abortions.

The bill, which tentatively passed 33-14, also included what one Democrat called “common-sense criminal reform measures” that would, among other things, expand the definition of statutory rape.

Sen. Shirley Randleman, a Wilkesboro Republican and co-sponsor, said the bill was designed to protect women and children. But Democrats called it legislative intrusion into a woman’s personal decision.

Paige Johnson, a vice president of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said the abortion bill would bar a third of her group’s current providers from performing abortions.

“We’re going to make sure Gov. McCrory understands this is a significant restriction on women’s access to safe and legal abortion,” she said, “and that we’re going to hold him accountable to his promises.”

Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the N.C. Values Coalition, said McCrory has the “opportunity to show the people who elected him to office that he supports the issues near and dear to their hearts.”

“These are not hard issues,” she said. “Protecting religious freedom and the unborn ought to be instinctive for conservatives.”

Craig Jarvis of The (Raleigh) News & Observer contributed.

Morrill: 704-358-5059

Magistrate bill veto is McCrory’s fourth

While Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed 19 bills during her final two years in office – after Republicans took control of the legislature – McCrory has only issued three vetoes since taking office in 2013.

The governor announced his fourth veto Thursday: A bill exempting magistrates from performing marriages.

Here’s a look at the first three:

▪ House Bill 392 allows welfare recipients to be tested if social workers suspect they have been abusing drugs and to determine whether there are outstanding felony warrants or whether applicants have violated the terms of parole or probation. McCrory opposed it, saying it was costly and ineffective in other states and lacked the needed funding. The House voted 77-39 to override his veto, and the Senate followed suit in a 34-10 vote.

▪ House Bill 786 is an immigration bill that triples the period in which seasonal workers do not have to have their immigration status checked in the federal E-Verify system. McCrory said it “makes it more difficult for North Carolina workers to get jobs” and vetoed it, but the House countered with an 84-32 override vote. The Senate overrode it 39-5.

▪ House Bill 1069 would have addressed the role of the governor and legislature in appointing members of an unemployment benefits appeals board. McCrory called it “unacceptable” because it would “stagger and shorten terms of current lawfully seated members.” The House didn’t take a vote to override the veto and instead let the bill die in the Rules Committee.

Colin Campbell

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