RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill widely criticized as a discriminatory measure targeting LGBT couples was passed into law on Thursday morning as the North Carolina House of Representatives joined its Senate colleagues in overriding Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto.
Senate Bill 2‘s passage now allows magistrates and registers of deeds to opt out of providing civil marriage services based on their “sincerely held” religious beliefs. It had easily passed both the House and Senate before facing a veto from McCrory on May 27. The Senate overrode the veto on June 1.
The House moved quickly on the override vote on Thursday morning, 14 days after McCrory’s veto.
There was no debate on the motion, though Democratic Leader Larry Hall (Durham) was given time to speak on the measure. He encouraged members to sustain the governor’s veto.
“The right reason the governor vetoed it was because it would sanction state employees being released from their sworn duties to the citizens of the State of North Carolina,” Hall said. “We should not be in the business of sanctioning state employees lying to the government and to the citizens of the state, taking a sacred oath and then willy nilly at their convenience deciding they will not uphold their oath to the citizens of North Carolina.”
Hall added, “We owe more to citizens, we owe more to the taxpayers and the value of an oath given to the state and citizens of North Carolina.”
In a post-vote press conference Democrats decried the law’s passage.
Rep. Henry Michaux (D-Durham) said the law is unconstitutional and said it would “give a pass” to those officials unwilling to uphold the federal and state constitutions.
Rep. Cecil Brockman (D-Guilford) had attempted to speak on the floor. He wasn’t allowed, but spoke about it at the press conference.
“Anybody who feels any kind of passion for their neighbor or community would stand up and say something,” Brockman told reporters. “It doesn’t make any sense. We live in 2015.”
Following the vote, McCrory released a statement expressing disappointment at the legislature’s decision.
“It’s a disappointing day for the rule of law and the process of passing legislation in North Carolina,” the governor’s written statement read. “I will continue to stand up for conservative principles that respect and obey the oath of office for public officials across our state and nation. While some people inside the beltline are focusing on symbolic issues, I remain focused on the issues that are going to have the greatest impact on the next generation such as creating jobs, building roads, strengthening education and improving our quality of life.”
‘Veto garage’ guaranteed passage
The final override vote came in at 69-41, meeting the constitutional three-fifths requirement.
Several members of the chamber, including Republicans, who had originally voted against the measure were absent on Thursday. Speaker Tim Moore had held off for several days on hearing the veto override — a maneuver former Speaker and current U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis called his “veto garage,” allowing time for the most opportune moment to vote on a bill.
Three Democrats were absent, as were Republicans opposed to the measure, including Mecklenburg’s John Bradford and Charles Jeter. Guilford’s Jon Hardister, who also voted against the measure, was also absent Thursday.
In the final tally, three Democrats voted to override the governor: William Brisson (Bladen); Charles Graham (Robeson) and Ken Waddell (Bladen). Three Republicans voted Thursday to sustain the governor’s veto: Rick Catlin (New Hanover), Leo Daughtry (Johnston) and Paul Tine (Beaufort).
LGBT advocates offer swift condemnation
Representatives from LGBT and civil rights organizations offered swift condemnation of the veto’s successful override.
“This a sad day for North Carolina that history will not judge kindly,” Sarah Preston, acting Executive Director of the ACLU of North Carolina, said in a release. “Just eight months after our state extended the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, extremist lawmakers have passed discrimination into law, allowing government officials to deny marriage services to virtually any couple. This shameful backlash against equality will make it harder for all couples in our state to marry and force many to spend what is supposed to be a happy day trapped in a maze of government offices. We encourage any North Carolina couples who encounter new hurdles because of this discriminatory law to contact our office.”
The Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality also spoke out.
“Senate Bill 2 is unconstitutional, and will undoubtedly be challenged in court,” the Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, said in a release.” This bill, which will now become law, is discriminatory and treats gay and lesbian couples as second class citizens. We are more determined than ever to achieve full equality for LGBT people in North Carolina and to ensure that LGBT youth know that they are not alone.”
Additionally, Jake Sussman of the Charlotte-based Tin Fulton Walker & Owen called the new law “state sanctioned discrimination” and a “terribly misguided attempt to rewrite what equal protection under the law means.”
“Equality and fairness are not principles that are decided on a case-by-case basis, dependent upon who happens to be working the counter on a particular day,” said Sussman, the lead counsel in General Synod of the UCC v. Reisinger, the lawsuit that struck down Amendment One last October. “Neither the United States Constitution nor the North Carolina Constitution permit any such thing. It is terribly unfortunate that this many elected officials don’t understand that.”
Luke Largess, also of Sussman’s firm and lead counsel in the same marriage case, echoed similar remarks.
“Every magistrate and every elected public official, swears to an oath to uphold the U.S. and North Carolina constitutions,” Largess said. “At the core of both – at the core of our civic life – is the commitment that all persons be treated equally under the law.”
In a message to supporters statewide, Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro called the vote “unbelievable.”
“I just left the North Carolina House chamber,” Sgro wrote in the mass email, “where minutes ago your elected officials ignored faith leaders, the business community, a majority of North Carolinians, the governor, and you, to vote in favor of making Senate Bill 2 a law and, in doing so, discriminating against loving same-sex couples. Gov. McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2 has now been overridden in both chambers. As a result, some public servants will now legally be allowed to pick and choose which taxpayers they marry.”
In a later statement to the press, Sgro criticized the state legislature for its discriminatory actions.
“We are disappointed to see the House vote against the the legal rights and best interests of LGBT people and of the entire state of North Carolina,” Sgro said in a release. “From the business community to local leaders to the governor, North Carolinians have stood up and said Senate Bill 2 is deeply problematic and discriminatory legislation. While it targets same-sex couples, in the process it creates problems for all North Carolinians who seek use of taxpayer-funded public services.”
Sgro added: “The North Carolina General Assembly should be focused on creating jobs and expanding public education rather than legislating against settled laws governing the freedom to marry. Equality NC will be working with its partners to determine whether this terrible bill will hold up to legal scrutiny.”
Critics of the bill say it is the most far-reaching and discriminatory of several anti-LGBT laws proposed in states across the country this year. Most of those bills had either stalled or were defeated, including in neighboring South Carolina and in states like Texas.