North Carolina Senate overrides governor's veto on gay marriage opt-out bill

Wedding participants display a large rainbow flag as gay couples marry outside of Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office in Charlotte, North Carolina, in this Oct. 13, 2014 file photo.Reuters

Public officials in North Carolina may now legally refuse to perform gay marriages after the state's Senate successfully overrode Gov. Pat McCrory's veto of the bill allowing magistrates and other officials to recuse themselves from such ceremonies owing to their religious beliefs.

The Republican-led Senate voted 32-16 to override McCrory's veto of Senate Bill 2 that would "allow magistrates, assistant registers of deeds, and deputy registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing duties related to marriage ceremonies due to sincerely held religious objection."

It has now been calendared for voting in the state's House of Representatives for June 3.

Before he vetoed the bill, McCrory said all officials are mandated to uphold the Constitution and discharge their duties.

"I recognize 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. However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer, or magistrate, 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; therefore, I will veto Senate Bill 2," he said.

Republican Senate Leader Phil Berger, who sponsored the legislation, countered by saying that "religious freedom is a fundamental right guaranteed under our state and federal constitutions – and one that our state's public servants shouldn't have to leave at the door."

North Carolina's Senate passed the legislation last June 1.

Speaking moments before the Senate approved the measure, Berger said, "this bill strikes a critical balance to make sure the freedoms granted to some under recent court orders do not erase the constitutionally-protected rights of others, and the Senate's action tonight will help ensure it becomes law."

The bill protects those who refuse to perform gay marriages from criminal prosecution.

"No magistrate, assistant register of deeds, or deputy register of deeds may be charged or convicted under G.S. 14-230 or G.S. 161-27, or subjected to a disciplinary action, due to a good-faith recusal under this section," according to the bill.

Democrats said the law is expected to delay marriages for gay couples, making the state vulnerable to lawsuits claiming unfair treatment.

"We want to be on the right side of history, not creating loopholes for unlawful discrimination," Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick said.

Gays may legally marry in 37 states and Washington, D.C. By the end of June, the US Supreme Court is expected to render a verdict on whether same-sex marriage should be legal nationwide.