- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 11, 2015

A supermajority of the North Carolina House members Thursday approved a bill that will let county court officials decline to participate in gay marriages if they have religious objections to it.

With a 69-41 vote, the state House joined the state Senate in overriding Senate Bill 2, which was vetoed by North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. The governor said people who take oaths to perform public duties ought to uphold those oaths.

The new law will permit magistrate judges and employees of county Register of Deeds offices to recuse themselves from participating in same-sex marriages if they have a “sincerely held religious objection.” They must also recuse themselves from performing all marriages for six months.

The county offices must provide personnel to assist gay couples. This means the chief District Court judge or the county register of deeds — both elected officials — would process marriages, if needed.

The North Carolina Family Policy Council was among the traditional-values groups urging House Speaker Tim Moore and other lawmakers to overturn the veto of the measure, known as the Religious Freedom bill.

But gay rights advocate Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara denounced Thursday’s vote. “This law is discriminatory and offensive to the true meaning of religious freedom and equality. It will not stand the test of time,” said Ms. Beach-Ferrara, a leader of the Campaign for Southern Equality.

The bill was introduced a few months after federal judges struck down North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment that said marriage was only the union of one man and one woman.

Several court workers quit after a court administrator warned that they would be punished if they didn’t handle same-sex marriages.

Lawmakers argued that government employees retain their constitutional rights to receive reasonable accommodations based on their deeply held beliefs.

“Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean they give up their First Amendment rights,” Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said during the brief override debate, according to the Associated Press.

Utah also has a similar exemption, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Utah’s governor signed that law.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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