Update: 4:15 p.m. EDT
Updated: 3:15 p.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina moved a step closer Thursday to enacting a law that would protect certain officials who refuse to perform same-sex marriages from being penalized.
The Republican-led legislature gave its final approval to a measure that would allow magistrates and some register of deeds employees who express a “sincerely held religious objection” to 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.
The measure was introduced when several magistrates resigned shortly after federal judges last October struck down North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. The state’s top court administrator said at the time magistrates who declined to officiate for same-sex couples could be punished, terminated or face potential criminal charges.
Utah is the only other state that’s approved a similar exemption, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Should you be fired from a job or subject to disciplinary action because you choose to live your life by those sincerely held religious objections and beliefs?” asked Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, which shepherded the bill he called a “narrowly crafted and reasonable solution.”
The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who’s expressed concerns over giving exemptions to people who take government oaths – like officials in the bill must recite.
Update: McCrory said Thursday he will veto the bill.
But he hasn’t said whether he’ll veto the measure, which passed the House 67-43 on Thursday in a largely party-line vote, as in the Senate in February. McCrory’s office didn’t respond Thursday afternoon to an email seeking comment.
Article continues belowIn North Carolina, each county’s register of deeds office issues marriage licenses, and magistrates are authorized to preside over civil marriage ceremonies.
Opponents said the measure turns gay couples into second-class citizens inconvenienced when the only magistrate on duty in a county has a religious objection to officiating.