RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina Senate on Monday evening easily overrode Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto on a controversial piece of legislation that would allow magistrates and registers of deeds to opt out of performing civil marriage services and ceremonies for same-gender couples. The House has not yet held a similar vote.
The action on Monday came at the disappointment of statewide LGBT advocacy leaders.
“Despite the opposition voiced from the business community to local leaders across the state, our elected officials voted to allow public servants to discriminate against loving same-sex couples,” Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro wrote to supporters in an email message following the vote.
The override vote also garnered swift reaction from the Senate’s Democratic caucus.
“Instead of focusing on the issues that matter most to North Carolinians, such as bringing jobs to this state, and ensuring our children have access to the highest quality public education, Phil Berger and Senate Republicans continue to focus on divisive social legislation,” a statement from the caucus via Senate Democratic Whip Terry Van Duyn (Buncombe) read.
Van Duyn’s statement continued: “We saw just three weeks ago yet another car company pass over North Carolina, as Volvo announced South Carolina as the home of their newest auto plant. And yet instead of opening doors to meaningful debate on our state’s spending plan for the next two years, leadership continues to focus on the wrong priorities.”
Representatives with the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, also condemned the legislation and its successful Senate veto override. The group calls the bill “unnecessary” and “mean-spirited.” He urged the House and Speaker Tim Moore (Cleveland) to sustain McCrory’s veto.
“For the sake of the state’s commitment to fairness and economic growth, the North Carolina House should echo Governor Pat McCrory and reject this needless and mean-spirited bill,” HRC Field Director Marty Rouse said in a statement. “Speaker Tim Moore has heard from countless fair-minded North Carolinians who oppose this legislation, now he should help lead the fight to halt it once and for all.”
The Senate’s final override vote came in at 32-16. The Senate had earlier passed the bill in February. That vote was also 32-16. The bill passed the House last week, with McCrory vetoing it later that day.
Conflicting reports indicate that Moore has said an override vote could come in his chamber as soon Tuesday or Wednesday.
The Senate’s override vote came after brief debate. Primary bill sponsor, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (said the bill provides the necessary “balance” and “accommodation” for public employees with “strongly held religious beliefs.”
“Civil servants have rights, too,” Berger said on the floor, citing the title of an article he said he’d read last week. “The government should respect those rights. Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean they give up their rights… or their ability to act on their beliefs.”
Democratic Sen. Angela Bryant (Halifax, Nash) said the bill provided a dangerous loophole that could open the doors to discrimination.
Voting no in the override vote was Charlotte’s Sen. Joel Ford. The Democrat had earlier provoked the ire of some LGBT constituents and community members when he voted in favor of the bill in February. He said over the weekend he would change his vote and seek to sustain the governor’s veto.
Ford’s change of mind came, he said, after realizing the bill could create hardships in smaller counties with fewer magistrates. Ford had also recently met with LGBT constituents and leaders with the LGBT Democrats of Mecklenburg County.
Ford and another Democratic senator, Ben Clark of Cumberland and Hoke Counties, were the only two Democrats to vote in favor of the bill in February. Clark voted Monday evening to override the veto.
Three Republicans voted against the override, including Mecklenburg County’s Sen. Jeff Tarte, Cabarrus County’s Sen. Fletcher Hartsell and Wake County’s Sen. John Alexander.
All other votes fell along party lines, with Republicans overwhelming supporting the bill.