Phil Berger, the president pro tem of the state Senate and leader of Republicans, should have better things to do than continue his crusade against same-sex marriage with legislation that is likely unconstitutional.
The bill, which Gov. Pat McCrory thankfully says he will veto, is a monument to prejudice. It would allow magistrates and registers of deeds to decline to participate in a same-sex marriage if such a union is contrary to their personal religious beliefs. This, despite their duty to do their jobs without discrimination.
Further, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of gay marriage within weeks or months, and if lower court rulings – including those that made same-sex marriage legal in North Carolina – are any indication, the high court may well affirm it.
It is an issue whose time has come and gone.
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State Rep. Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat, had another point to make in debate. She said, “Our focus here should be on jobs and education. This bill says that some people’s rights matter and other people’s rights don’t matter. This bill does not create jobs. In fact, it’s a job killer.”
Precisely. Even if Republicans are personally vehement in their opposition to gay marriage and want to pretend the U.S. Constitution doesn’t exist, they should at least understand that the big, high-tech firms the state presumably wants to attract aren’t going to go anywhere their employees might face discrimination.
And discrimination is exactly what this bill is about. Magistrates and registers of deeds who handle marriage licenses are public employees and aren’t allowed to pick and choose when and for whom they’ll perform their duties. Singling out this one duty for exemption, in a maneuver clearly targeted to deny gay people the legal right to marry, is outrageous.
And McCrory, if his veto stands, is saving the state money instead of trying to defend the indefensible.
The governor said in a news release: “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.”
Grasping at straws
Defenders of this legislation say it’s not discriminatory because gay people could find someone else to marry them even if some magistrates wouldn’t perform the ceremony, but they are grasping at straws. The Senate leader may put his own ideology ahead of the law, but he’s doing his colleagues (including House Speaker Tim Moore, who backed the bill) no favor in asking them to join him.
The governor has stood up and stood tall here, and he may not be overridden, as the vote was closer in the House than leaders anticipated. But regardless of whether GOP legislators are silly enough to keep pushing this bill, the governor has done the right thing, though even now Berger and his mates are likely plotting their revenge.
What nonsense. If the measure should rise again, let Moore and Berger explain to corporate CEOs considering North Carolina as the location of a new headquarters, other offices or a plant why North Carolina has a law that allows public employees to engage in discrimination. That’s assuming the heads of companies will even come to the state to look around or talk to them.
How many more misadventures will Berger lead in deference to an ideological agenda that’s been outrun by common sense and enlightenment? Alas, there’s no telling.