More reason to sustain magistrate law veto

The Observer editorial board

In announcing his veto of N.C. Senate Bill 2 last week, Gov. Pat McCrory offered a simple, precise reason why magistrates in North Carolina shouldn’t be able to recuse themselves from performing marriages based on religious objections.

Said McCrory: “We are a nation 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.”

We agree. We’ve said the same in this space. But things like the Constitution and laws get lost on many N.C. Republicans when the topic is gay marriage.

That’s why this week, Senate and House leaders will be counting votes to see if they have enough to override McCrory’s veto.

(They also will be taking the temperature on overriding McCrory’s veto Friday of HB 405, the “ag-gag” bill that would silence whistleblowers at N.C. businesses. That’s two vetoes of bad bills in two days for McCrory. Has Moderate Pat, the candidate many voters thought they were getting, returned to North Carolina?)

Early estimates say leaders face a challenge in gathering the three-fifths majority they need to override the magistrate law veto. Of course, losing hasn’t previously been much of a deterrent to Republicans. Even before McCrory’s veto, the magistrate bill was destined for a court challenge and likely defeat, based on it being flatly unconstitutional.

Such dire legal prospects haven’t stopped conservatives from pursuing other folly, such as an abortion ultrasound law, because passing such measures plays well with their conservative constituents. If the laws happen to lose in court later, no matter. Consider it a campaign expense – paid for by taxpayers.

So let’s try one more reason – albeit remote – that Senate Bill 2 is bad for North Carolina:

Most N.C. couples get marriage licenses at a Register of Deeds office, where assistant registers of deeds not only issue licenses, but record them, scan them and file them. What if those staffers opted out of these duties claiming the same religious exemptions? What if they object to filing a deed to a gay couple’s property, or a birth certificate for their children?

SB 2 only covers marriage licenses, of course. But if assistant registers of deeds, who also fall under SB 2’s umbrella, believe gay marriage is religiously objectionable, the fruits of that marriage could be, as well.

That could invite more legal action. It surely would invite more messiness. And, as always, it could result in more opportunities to discriminate against gays.

Some lawmakers don’t care much about that last reason, but they should. They should also understand that the costs and messiness of SB 2 have never been worth what you get.

Of course, lawmakers aren’t paying those bills. They’re just getting the political benefits.