N.C. Senate votes to override McCrory marriage veto; House to vote next

North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh.

North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh.

North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh.

North Carolina state capitol in Raleigh.

Updated: 9:00 p.m. EDT

RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina state Senate voted Monday night to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of a bill that would allow some court officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriage activities because of religious objections.

The 32-16 vote was above the three-fifths threshold necessary to override a veto. The bill still must clear the House again for the veto to be blocked and the law enacted. That vote was scheduled for Wednesday in the House, where the outcome is less certain because 10 lawmakers were absent last week when the bill first passed.

McCrory, a Republican who vetoed the bill within hours of final legislative passage, saying no public official voluntarily taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution should be exempt from upholding duties. The bill followed within a few months of federal judges striking down North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

But GOP colleagues in the legislature backing the idea said the government employees have the right to receive reasonable accommodations based on their deeply held beliefs in the name of constitutionally-held religious freedoms.

“Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean they give up their First Amendment rights,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said during the brief override debate.

The bill says the court officials who disclose a “sincerely held religious objection” must stop performing marriage duties for both gay and heterosexual couples for at least six months. The chief District Court judge or the county register of deeds – both elected officials – would fill in on marriages if needed.

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Democrats, who were largely opposed to the bill, reiterated Monday night the measure would breed and could stoke bias. Register of deeds office issues marriage licenses. Gay couples could be forced to wait longer to get married if a magistrate decides upon seeing them that he or she can’t solemnize the union, they argued.

The ability for an 11th-hour religious exemption “is putting local officials at risk to be challenged for discrimination,” said Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash. “We are setting them (up) to play out those prejudices within this loophole.”

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