RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill that would allow magistrates and registers of deeds to opt out of providing legal marriage services or issuing marriage licenses passed out of a state Senate committee this morning. The full Senate did not take up the bill on Tuesday afternoon, adjourning after a short session. Observers think the bill could get its full hearing on the Senate floor on Wednesday.
The bill, SB 2, was heard this morning in the Senate Judiciary II Committee. Proponents of the bill say it is needed to protect magistrates and other government officials who have a “sincerely held religious belief.” Critics of the measure, including Equality NC and the ACLU of North Carolina, say that the bill would allow government officials to pick and choose which citizens they want to serve, using religion as a guise for discrimination.
The bill is largely directed toward discriminating against LGBT couples, but in comments and debate on the bill on Monday morning, proponents admitted that it would also allow magistrates and registers of deeds to discriminate against interracial couples.
Equality NC Executive Director Chris Sgro mentioned the easy parallels in short remarks delivered to the committee.
“This bill is a direct attack on our community,” said Sgro. “History books will remember SB 2 no more favorably than an interracial couple being turned away 36 years ago.”
The ACLU points out that, in 1977, two Forsyth County magistrates denied marriage services to interracial couple Thomas Roger Person and Carol Ann Figueroa. The couple successfully sued the magistrates in federal court.
“Religious freedom is one of our most valued liberties, but it should never be used as an excuse to deny government services to those who qualify, simply because of who they love,” Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a release late Monday. “This bill is clearly designed to deny gay and lesbian couples their legal right to marry, but it would also make it harder for all North Carolina couples, especially those living in smaller counties, to access their right to be married under the law. We urge lawmakers to reject this bill and ensure that government services in North Carolina remain open to all on equal terms.”
Advocates expect the bill could reach the Senate floor sometime this week.
The magistrates bill was promised by State Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger last fall, after federal courts overturned the state’s anti-LGBT marriage amendment.
A broader, more far-reaching discriminatory bill is widely expected to be introduced this session, as well.