In recent months, there have been all kinds of "religious freedom" measures considered in states nationwide, largely as part of a far-right campaign against gay rights and marriage equality. But North Carolina's new law is different in some alarming and important ways.
MSNBC's Amanda Sakuma reports today
on North Carolina lawmakers voting today to override a gubernatorial veto and impose new restrictions.
The showdown over Senate Bill 2 came to a dramatic end in a 69-41 vote, overcoming Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's veto from late last month. The measure would allow government officials to cite "sincerely held" religious beliefs as a reason to not participate in same-sex marriages in the state. Magistrates and registers of deeds must formally opt-out in writing -- making them exempt from performing marriage duties for six months.
The fact that the proposal went too far for Gov. Pat McCrory is no small detail. North Carolina's Republican governor is quite conservative and opposes marriage equality, and it was his own allies who passed the measure in the legislature. But McCrory rejected it anyway, insisting that "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."
The GOP-led state House overrode the governor's veto last week, and the GOP-led state Senate did the same today.
But what makes the North Carolina measure unique is just how far it goes.
As Rachel noted on the show last week, the policy is intended to empower local officials to refuse to marry couples on the basis of their own personal religious objections: "So if the county magistrate objects to your marriage on religious grounds of any kind, then too bad for you -- that magistrate doesn't have to give you a license."
The goal, not surprisingly, is to stand in the way of same-sex couples who want to wed, but the measure doesn't specify that, which raises the prospect of some pretty broad problems. If a county magistrate has a religious objection to an interracial couple getting married, he or she can refuse.
The same is true if the local official objects to a couple from different religious backgrounds. If the local official objects to marrying someone who's been previously divorced, the same thing.
The News & Observer
published an opinion piece
recently from Carol Ann Person, who's been married to Thomas Pearson for nearly 40 years, and who were originally denied a marriage license when they first tried to marry because Carol Ann is white and Thomas is black. It's a shame North Carolina lawmakers didn't read this before voting.
I am a church-going Christian. My faith has never taught me to turn people away because of who they love, and I never believed that my God would have any problem with me marrying a wonderful man like Thomas. But even if my faith were different, if I worked for the government, I would know that I have to treat all members of the public equally, regardless of my religious views. Government employees aren't working a religious job; they take an oath to serve all the public, and they're supposed to be impartial. This year, when I learned that legislators in Raleigh were pushing a law that would allow magistrates to refuse to marry couples on religious grounds, I felt the pain of that day all over again. Senate Bill 2 would give magistrates the ability to discriminate against couples exactly the same way they discriminated against Thomas and me almost 40 years ago. [...] Whether gay or straight, black or white, Jew or Gentile, nobody has a right to tell anyone who they can love or marry. House representatives must finally stop Senate Bill 2 and sustain the governor's veto so that no other couple in North Carolina ever has to go through what we did when they want to marry the person they love.
The state's Republican lawmakers disagree.
Look for more on this on tonight's show.