Editorial by Winston-Salem Journal, May 30, 2015.
The governor’s veto was swift – and that’s where the story should end. If the state legislature goes for an override – which it likely has the votes to pull off – it would be doing the state a disservice that should cost it members at election time.
On Thursday, the state House and Senate passed a religious exemption bill that would allow some magistrates and register-of-deeds workers to opt out of performing same-sex marriage duties, despite Gov. Pat McCrory’s threat to veto it, The Associated Press reported. His veto followed within hours.
McCrory said in a written statement that “for many North Carolinians, including myself, opinions on same-sex marriage come from sincerely held religious beliefs that marriage is between a man and a woman.” But, he added, “we are a nation and a state of laws. …
“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.”
Same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina. It’s favored by increasing majorities throughout the country. Even conservatives like U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis have acknowledged that in another generation, it’ll be a non-issue.
Many in the legislature have made their negative views on homosexuality well-known, and they brought their objections up again during the bill’s debate. But passing their bill wouldn’t change the legality of homosexuality or same-sex marriage. The only thing it would accomplish, in concrete terms, would be to allow state employees to opt out of responsibilities their jobs require if they have an ill-defined “sincerely held religious objection” to them.
The beneficiaries would presumably be grateful that a special carve-out was provided to allow them to avoid the responsibilities that their colleagues would perform as a matter of course. It hardly seems an accommodation in which they could take pride.
But it’s not hard to imagine some of the unintended consequences of this bill. If legislators someday had the nebulous criteria of “sincerely held religious objection” turned against them, they’d have no one but themselves to blame.
Nor is it much of a stretch to imagine what this might do to our reputation when it comes to drawing business interests. Savvy business leaders would have to wonder just how comfortable they and their employees would be living in a state that has opened the door to legalized discrimination.
State Rep. Jon Hardister of Greensboro was one of five Republicans who voted against the bill. “I believe that public employees have an obligation to treat all citizens equally according to the law, regardless of their personal beliefs,” he said during debate over the bill. That’s a sentiment that everyone should be able to get behind.
The legislature has the votes to override the governor’s veto – but it would be a mistake to do so. Let’s end this bad idea here and move on.