RALEIGH, N.C. — One of the North Carolina House of Representatives’ top Republican leaders has announced plans to move forward with an anti-LGBT “religious freedom” discrimination measure initially promised by a Senate colleague last fall.
State Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, who was re-elected speaker pro tempore of the House during the opening of the legislature’s new session on Wednesday, has announced that House leaders will hold a legislative briefing Jan. 28 on a proposed “religious freedom” bill. State Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said last October that he’d be introducing legislation designed to allow registers of deeds and magistrates to opt out of serving LGBT citizens if doing so “would violate their core religious beliefs.”
Similar bills, sometimes known as religious freedom “protection” or “restoration” acts, have been introduced in other states. In Virginia, legislators are considering legislation giving broad exemptions to government employees. GayRVA.com reports that under Virginia’s bill “a person would not be required to ‘perform, assist, consent to, or participate in any action’ as a condition of ‘obtaining or renewing a government-issued license, registration, or certificate’ if such actions would ‘violate the religious or moral convictions of such person.'”
In addition to Virginia’s and North Carolina’s potential laws, the American Civil Liberties Union this week noted four other similar pieces of legislation. Bills in South Carolina and Texas would restrict the use of taxpayer money, including government employees’ salaries, in granting marriage licenses to same-gender couples. Other bills are under consideration in Utah and Georgia.
The bills have come in response to continued court rulings opening legal marriage to LGBT couples. In North Carolina, federal courts ruled in October to overturn the state’s anti-LGBT marriage amendment. Those rulings, and several resignations of anti-LGBT magistrates across the state, prompted Berger’s comments in the fall.
Statewide LGBT advocates have consistently objected to plans for such a bill, and spoke out again Wednesday.
“With this announcement, Rep. Stam is now joining Sen. Berger in a transparent effort to dress up anti-LGBT discrimination by calling it ‘religious freedom,'” Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, said in a statement. “This is an unconstitutional political stunt that the United States Supreme Court has consistently said it won’t allow.”
Sgro added, “We’ve seen this cynical tactic play out in many parts of the country in many different ways. Now these leaders are bringing this divisive debate to our state where North Carolina’s true values of fairness and equality are under attack. We ask our supporters to join us as we prepare to fight this, and any attacks on LGBT North Carolinians, during this legislative session.”