RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said Thursday he’ll veto a religious exemption bill that would allow some court officials to avoid gay marriage duties.
His decision, announced hours after lawmakers gave their final approval to the measure, puts him at odds with social conservatives in his Republican Party and GOP legislative leaders spearheading the legislation.
Now the legislature must decide whether to override that veto and enact the bill, which gives magistrates and some register of deeds workers the ability to avoid duties for all marriages if they have a “sincerely held religious objection.”
McCrory said in a 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,” McCrory said.
Once the veto is carried out, the bill will return to the legislature, where at least three-fifths of the lawmakers voting in each chamber must support an override to enact the law over his objections.
The House and Senate already passed the bill by margins above the threshold, although the House 67-43 vote Thursday was barely above it. Ten House members had excused absences and didn’t vote.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, who introduced the bill, and House Speaker Tim Moore didn’t immediately provide a response to McCrory’s veto plans.
Gay rights group Equality North Carolina praised the veto and urged lawmakers to keep the veto in place.
“Both actions will send a strong message that no public official is exempt from the constitution they themselves have sworn to uphold and that all North Carolinians deserve equal access to state services under the law,” group executive director Chris Sgro said.
The measure was filed when several magistrates resigned shortly after federal judges last October struck down North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. The state’s top court administrator said at the time magistrates who declined to officiate for same-sex couples could be punished, terminated or face potential criminal charges.
Utah is the only other state that’s approved a similar exemption, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.