Barry Saunders

Saunders: What do bills on same-sex marriage, abortion have to do with jobs?

It’s a good thing GOP candidates and leaders told us last year that improving the state’s economy would be their primary focus.

Danged if you could tell, otherwise.

One of the first proposals put forth by the GOP-led legislature last week as it emerged from a two-week break had zilch, nichts, nada, zero to do with jobs. It was the legislative equivalent of a parental excuse for bigoted magistrates and registers of deeds.

The difference is that, instead of excusing li’l Johnny from having to take P.E. and undress with the rest of the class, the legislators are writing a note excusing magistrates and register of deeds employees from having to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples if they disagree with the practice on religious grounds.

Upon filing the bill, Senate leader Phil Berger said in a statement “While the courts have expanded the freedoms of some, we must not ignore the constitutionally protected rights of others. ... This bill offers a reasonable solution to protect the First Amendment rights of magistrates and register of deeds employees while complying with the marriage law ordered by the courts – so they are not forced to abandon their religious beliefs to save their jobs.”

Did the dude say “reasonable”? Yes, he did.

Oy. Such lame excuses didn’t work in school – I’m sure I once told coach Krall that my religion prohibited me from climbing that rope in gym class – and it shouldn’t work now. If you’re a magistrate and don’t want to perform marriages for same-sex couples, here’s a perfect solution to your quandary: Turn in your badge and your key to the executive restroom and find another line of work – outside of government.

Alas, even if a magistrate or deeds employee quits rather than conduct such a marriage, Berger’s bill would allow her or him to apply for any other vacant position.

In addition to this malodorous toe jam of a bill, House Republican Paul Stam of Apex is fixing to unleash a pitch modeled on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1393 – oops – 1993. The mere title is enough to inspire fear in anyone who actually supports religious freedom.

The legislature will also seek to impose onerous requirements on abortion providers. Jobs, indeed.

Jarvis Hall, an associate professor of political science at NCCU, is not surprised that jobs aren’t Job One for the legislature. “It’s similar to what they did last session,” Hall said. The focus on abortions and same-sex marriage “is a ruse to mobilize their base, but at some point they’re going to have to govern. ... The only way they’re going make a move on jobs is if they’re pushed by the governor.”

Hall said Gov. McCrory’s best hope for re-election is to cobble together a coalition of pro-business factions comprised of Republicans and Democrats.

Berger’s bill is merely a way of legitimizing and excusing bigotry, and allowing them to apply for another position is simply rewarding it. If magistrates and register of deeds employees can pick and choose whom they’ll marry, where will it end?

What if a magistrate’s religion prohibits interracial marriage or forbids the wearing of a striped tie with a plaid shirt? What if it condemns the wearing of those big shoulder pads in women’s jackets, but that “Miami Vice”-inspired number from the ’80s is all you have clean to wear for your big day?

Fashion, as is with whom one falls in love, is subjective and should have to answer to no one. As unlikely as it is that I’d commit a fashion faux pas, what if the South Carolina justice of the peace in 1978 had objected to the lime-green, crushed velvet jumpsuit I wore the first time I went to his state – no waiting period wink, wink – to get married? Fortunately for all concerned, we got lost looking for his house and sobered up before we found it.

Upon further review, the wearing of stripes and plaids – unless they’re of sufficiently differing scales – is truly an abomination that should not be legitimized.

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