Under the Dome

Marriage exemption for magistrates to get NC House vote

Chad Biggs, left, and Chris Creech say their wedding vows in front of Wake County magistrate Dexter Williams in October. The N.C. House will consider a bill to exempt magistrates from performing weddings.
Chad Biggs, left, and Chris Creech say their wedding vows in front of Wake County magistrate Dexter Williams in October. The N.C. House will consider a bill to exempt magistrates from performing weddings. cliddy@newsobserver.com

A controversial bill to exempt magistrates from performing wedding duties will make its first appearance in an N.C. House committee Wednesday afternoon.

Senate Bill 2 would allow magistrates and register of deeds employees to opt out of performing weddings if they have a religious objection. Opponents of the measure say it would allow discrimination against same-sex couples, but workers seeking the exemption couldn’t perform any weddings for at least six months.

The bill passed the Senate in a 32-16 vote on Feb. 25, mostly along party lines. For the past three months, the House has taken no action on the legislation.

The House has instead been focused on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill similar to those that sparked loud backlash this year in Indiana and Arkansas. Much like the debate over Senate Bill 2, supporters said the measure would guarantee people’s ability to exercise religious liberties, while critics saw potential for discrimination.

House Speaker Tim Moore announced last month that the religious freedom bill was effectively dead for this session, saying it “is not the proper path to go.” But he said that the “overwhelming majority” of House Republicans favored the exemption for magistrates.

Wednesday’s debate on the bill will be in the House Judiciary I Committee, which is chaired by Republican Rep. Leo Daughtry of Smithfield.

Equality NC and the American Civil Liberties Union plan to gather opponents of the bill at the meeting, which will take place in a room that seats only a few dozen people. A Facebook invitation from the groups calls on opponents to wear red and “literally stand together against this discriminatory legislation.”

House Democratic Leader Larry Hall tweeted Tuesday that the bill could go straight to the House floor within hours of the committee meeting:

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