After delaying the vote for several days, the North Carolina House voted Thursday morning to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of SB 2, a bill that would allow state magistrates to decline to officiate marriages. The Senate had already similarly approved an override, meaning the bill is now law.
What this law means is that any state officials approved to officiate marriages can decide to recuse themselves from performing that duty. However, they cannot pick and choose on a couple-to-couple or day-to-day basis. If they feel that there are some weddings that they cannot officiate for religious reasons, then they have to decline to officiate any wedding for at least six months. All counties would still be required to provide somebody who can officiate, even if all local magistrates had decided to stop marrying couples.
The law came about because of the arrival of legal same-sex marriage in North Carolina last fall. Several magistrates resigned after being warned that their oath of office stipulated they officiate for any couple with a valid marriage license. Two of these former magistrates have filed suit against the state, arguing that they resigned under duress. They claim that they should not be forced to choose between their job and their religious beliefs, even if their beliefs prohibit them from performing their job in a way that serves all citizens.
McCrory vetoed the bill because he believed it to be unconstitutional. “No public official,” he explained, “who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.” It remains to be seen what legal consequences could unwind if a same-sex couple’s request to have their marriage officiated prompts magistrates to recuse themselves from doing so.