SB2 veto tramples rights of conscience

| June 7, 2015

imagesby Charles Davenport, Greensboro News-Record, June 7, 2015.

“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech, because today we’ve reached the point in our society where, if you do not support same-sex marriage, you are labeled a homophobe and a hater” — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network last month, Rubio issued a reminder that the culture war rages on unabated. The “combatants” are progressives on the one side and traditionalists on the other. The former routinely agitate, protest and lobby; the latter routinely capitulate, apologize and flee from the field.

Consider recent events in North Carolina.

In 2012, voters overwhelmingly (61 percent to 39 percent) approved Amendment One to the state constitution, defining marriage in the traditional sense — as between one man and one woman. But in October, an activist of the black-robed, judicial variety disregarded the will of the majority and declared Amendment One unconstitutional. Same-sex marriage was imposed on the majority.

In response, to their credit, state Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) and the state legislature passed Senate Bill 2, which would allow magistrates and register of deeds employees to opt out of same-sex marriage-related duties on religious grounds.

Bear in mind that same-sex marriage is a sudden and radical transformation of public policy. It did not exist when most magistrates and register of deeds employees assumed their positions. Equally important, SB 2 required that gay and lesbian couples be served by someone else; no one, in other words, would be harmed by the exemption.

What if, beginning in the fall, public school teachers were required to take their students to a firing range once a month? Or, what if it were suddenly declared that health department employees must work a certain number of hours every month at a pro-life, Christian counseling center for pregnant women? Requiring government employees to facilitate same-sex marriages is equally absurd.

And flagrantly unconstitutional. Traditionalists revere and believe in obedience to our founding documents. As pointed out by N.C. Senate leader Berger and N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, the state constitution protects citizens’ “inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences” and declares that “no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.” From the traditionalists’ perspective, this is a slam-dunk argument that ends the discussion.

But among progressives, equality, diversity and inclusion are more important than the archaic language of dusty old documents. Besides, why bother engaging in a debate when one can simply denounce the traditionalist as a bigot and return to NPR and The New York Times?

On this issue, even my friends on the editorial board appear to be blinded by ideology. “Religious conscience,” they wrote on May 28, “is a valid principle, but it does not give license to public officials who want to pick and choose what parts of their jobs they’ll do and for whom. Conscience should demand they find another job.”

I do not recall such scathing language being applied to President Barack Obama a few years ago, when he refused to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act (which was signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton). Obama ignores immigration law, but the editors have yet to pen a stinging rebuke. He has picked and chosen the laws he will enforce. Should he, too, find another job? Or, are dubious means — picking and choosing — acceptable when they are necessary to achieve progressive ends — gay marriage and permanent residency for illegal immigrants?

Observers on the Right have come to expect disappointment from our elected leaders, and Gov. Pat McCrory lived up to our lowly expectations. He promptly vetoed SB 2, while reminding us in lofty terms of an elected official’s oaths and obligations. (A noble sentiment, but, as noted, not everyone plays by the rules.)

In vetoing SB 2, McCrory would compel government employees to participate in the fulfillment of a constitutional “right” (same-sex marriage) that does not exist. (Are we to believe that your ancestors and mine were too ignorant and mean-spirited to detect the existence of that alleged right in our founding documents?) Simultaneously, the governor trampled boldly proclaimed, black-and-white, indisputable rights of conscience — rights that apply to every citizen, including magistrates and register of deeds employees.

The legislature should override McCrory’s veto.

Charles Davenport Jr. ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Greensboro and a member of the News & Record’s community editorial board.

Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

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