North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has vetoed a bill that would have allowed state officials to refuse to officiate marriages. The legislation (SB 2), which passed in the House on Thursday having previously passed in the Senate back in February, would have allowed state magistrates to opt out of conducting marriage ceremonies based on a sincerely held religious objection. Though the bill does not specifically reference same-sex marriage, its purpose was to allow officials to retain their jobs without officiating for same-sex couples.
McCrory explained in a statement that allowing officials to pick and choose how they perform their sworn duties is not good law: “Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath; therefore, I will veto Senate Bill 2.”
Though the bill was designed to create a way around performing same-sex marriages, its effect would have been equally as inconvenient for different-sex couples. Magistrates and Assistant Registers of Deeds would not have been able to pick and choose who they marry; they could only pick between all marriages and no marriages. If it was when a same-sex couple requested a marriage that they decided to stop performing the duty, that recusal would last for at least six months. And counties would still have had to provide somebody that could officiate marriages, even if all magistrates had recused under the policy.
When marriage equality first arrived in North Carolina, several magistrates resigned after the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts warned that their oath of office required that they officiate for any couple with a valid marriage license. Two of these former magistrates have since filed a suit demanding an exemption, arguing that they were forced “to choose between taking an act that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs or being criminally prosecuted.” They claim they resigned under duress, and they ask to be reinstated and awarded injunctive relief, damages, and attorneys’ fees.
The legislation did not pass with enough support to override McCrory’s veto.