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Two Mecklenburg senators go rogue on the magistrate marriage bill

By Jim Morrill

Sen. Joel Ford
Sen. Joel Ford

Wednesday’s Senate vote on a bill to allow North Carolina’s magistrates and registers of deeds to refuse to participate in same-sex marriages fell along predictably partisan lines.

Only four senators crossed party lines. Two were from Mecklenburg County.

The bill lets officials with “sincerely held religious objections” to recuse themselves from same-sex marriages. Any couple could still get married by another official.

Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte was one of two Republicans to vote against the bill sponsored by his party’s leader, President Pro Tem Phil Berger of Eden.

Tarte, the former mayor of Cornelius, explained why in impassioned remarks on the Senate floor. He said he’s personally opposed to same-sex marriage, even supported Amendment One, the 2012 constitutional amendment that blocked it until courts overturned the ban last fall.

“This one bothers me, keeps me up at night,” he told fellow senators.

“But we’re talking rule of law,” he said, explaining why he decided to vote against Berger’s bill.

Meanwhile Sen. Joel Ford was one of two Democrats to vote for the bill.

“This was a very tough vote,” Ford told me later.

“I just really feel strongly that we have to strike a balance between protecting religious rights and the rights of same-sex couples. It’s not a perfect bill but it gives those folks who have serious religious objections some protection (and) it protects same-sex couples.”

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