by Jordan Green
The ratification of Senate Bill 2, allowing magistrates to opt out of marrying same-sex couples for reasons of conscience, throttles North Carolina back into the dark ages of social inequality.
Prior to June 11, the day the state House joined the Senate in overriding Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto, only Utah had passed such a law.
The opt-out law has ugly echoes of an incident in 1976 when two magistrates in Forsyth County refused to officiate the marriage of Thomas Person and Carol Ann Figueroa, an interracial couple, because they said it violated their religious beliefs against a black man marrying a white woman.
There is a straight ideological throughline from segregationist positions against equal opportunity and interracial marriage that lingered into the 1970s in North Carolina, and efforts today to stymie equal rights for gays. Adherents in both cases have turned to arguments about moral values, tradition and social custom to support their positions, but allowing civil servants to deny services to citizens, whether they are in a same-sex union or an interracial marriage, is bigotry plain and simple. The only difference is that racial bigotry has been forced into the shadows, while anti-gay bigotry is still socially acceptable in the state, albeit increasingly less so.
The gradual dismantling of Jim Crow opened North Carolina and other parts of the South to significant economic development as corporations determined that, with the stain of legally sanctioned segregation lifted, they could invest. It’s telling that Gov. McCrory came to Jamestown from Columbus, Ohio with his parents in the mid-1960s, as part of the north-south migration that answered North Carolina’s reintegration into the national fold.
And now, just as North Carolina cities are beginning to receive recognition as centers of cultural vibrancy, social inclusion and economic innovation — racing to catch up with national leaders like Austin, Tex., San Francisco and Seattle — the conservative Republican leadership in Raleigh is confirming our state’s national stereotype for backwardness.
It’s to North Carolina’s shame that the General Assembly overrode the governor’s veto on this law. The governor, unlike members of the General Assembly, must face all the voters of North Carolina when he comes up for reelection next year. His position on the issue represents the best interest all of the state’s citizens.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Unlike the governor, the lawmakers who enacted SB 2 into law are not accountable. The extreme gerrymandering in the way their districts were drawn ensures that no sitting lawmaker has to worry about being unseated by a member of the opposing party in the general election. Thus while support for same-sex equality runs strong in Greensboro, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and Sen. Trudy Wade, who are part of the Guilford County delegation, could sponsor the bill without fear of political repercussions.
Whether any of us personally voted for Berger or Wade, we all carry the shame of this decision. How can any of us tell our friends in Washington DC or Philadelphia with a straight face and in good conscience that they should overlook our retrograde policies and move here to enjoy our brewpubs, accessible arts scenes and copacetic weather?
While the Senate vote contained few surprises, the House vote on June 11 was a profile in betrayal and cowardice.
From the Guilford and Forsyth delegations, Reps. Cecil Brockman, Ed Hanes, Pricey Harrison and Ralph Johnson — all Democrats — deserve our thanks for voting against the opt-out provision for magistrates who refuse to perform gay marriages. Reps. John Blust, Debra Conrad, John Faircloth and Donny Lambeth — all Republicans — stood with bigotry. Duly noted.
Ten House members — six Republicans and four Democrats — took a walk, in the parlance of state lawmaking, claiming excused absences to avoid voting on the bill. Votes to oppose the bill by any six of them would have denied the Republican leadership the 3/5 majority needed to override the governor’s veto. Three lawmakers from our local delegations failed to take a stand: Jon Hardister, Republican of Guilford; Julia Howard, Republican of Forsyth; and Evelyn Terry, Democrat of Forsyth. Where were you?
The ratification of SB 2 into law marks a historic development with national significance for North Carolina. Sadly, it’s a part of history about which none of us will boast to our children and grandchildren.