Remember all outrage a month or so ago from opponents of Senate Bill 2?
The new law, which you can read about at length in an earlier post, prevents certain state employees from being forced to perform same-sex marriages against their will.
Partisan journalists, left-wing bloggers, progressive activists, out-of-state social media types, liberal legislators, and even George “Oh my!” Takei warned us all that if the legislature dared to provide any reasonable accommodation to people of faith over the issue, there’d be, well, gay hell to pay.
“Senate Bill 2 would give refuge to magistrates who refuse to comply with those rulings under color of their professed faith,” said Sharon McCloskey, writing for the far-left blog NCPolicyWatch, an arm of the radical “Eviscerate, Mitigate, Litigate, Cogitate, and Agitate” BlueprintNC. “Though lawmakers couched their text in broad and vague terms, their intent in pushing the bill was clear: stop gay marriages.”
Editorial boards across the state dutifully chimed in. Various advocacy groups, including the ACLU, joined in the chorus of opposition to the bill. In the days leading up to the General Assembly’s final vote, over a thousand tweets were sent out by activists criticizing the intent of Senate Bill 2 and maligning the character and questioning the motives of the legislators who supported it.
“It’ll be the return of Jim Crow!” predicted one activist we spoke with, calling the legislation “heteronormative and oppressive.” “SB2 legalizes discrimination!” accused another rainbow warrior. We even saw a desperate attempt to raise the spectre of past barriers to interracial marriage.
These sentiments were echoed over and over again. Endless talk of the thousands of North Carolina citizens who would certainly be “turned away” and treated like “second class citizens” dominated the internet and the news for weeks.
Except, none of it happened.
On July 7, nearly a month after the new law took effect, the Raleigh News & Observer reported that only 14 of the state’s 672 magistrates have opted out of performing marriages. That’s just 2 percent.
And there haven’t been any stories of anyone being discriminated against or turned away or told they couldn’t get married.
As the kids would say…meh.
Sarah Preston, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (who lobbied fiercely against the bill) admitted in the interview that the requests for recusals we’re seeing represent “a pretty small number. I think that indicates that this was really a non-issue.”
She almost sounds disappointed.
But that’s likely to be the total impact. One would expect that any magistrate or register of deeds employee holding a sincere religious objection to performing same-sex marriages in North Carolina would have taken the opportunity to formally declare their position when relief was finally provided by the legislature. After all, they probably would have been contemplating for some time the difficult position they had been forced into: getting fired (or paying a hefty fine or going to jail) or violating their own morals and strongly held religious beliefs.
Despite the efforts of the law’s vocal opponents on the left (including the ACLU) trying to make the legislation a big deal, it really wasn’t. Perhaps they didn’t read the legislation. Perhaps they didn’t understand it. Perhaps they were parroting one anothers’ talking points. Or, perhaps, they were mischaracterizing what the law said in order to gin-up fear and controversy — maybe, even, to raise money or motivate their political base.
Magistrates (who are authorized to perform marriages) and register of deeds employees (who issue marriage licenses) can now recuse themselves from these duties, if they personally have a sincerely held religious objection to performing a same-sex marriage. Those employees recusing themselves are required to opt-out of performing all marriage ceremonies for a period of at least six months, so the letter of the law actually prevents discriminatory behavior. (And for what it’s worth, marriage-related duties are a small part of what these folks do on a daily basis.)
Every major world religion is opposed to same-sex marriage, including most of the nation’s biggest denominations: the Roman Catholic Church, which has 68 million members; the Southern Baptist Convention, was has 16 million members; the United Methodist Church, which has 8 million members; and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has 6 million members. So it’s not unreasonable to assume that some magistrates and register of deeds employees might have a sincerely held religious objection to performing same-sex marriages or issuing same-sex marriage licenses. For those that do, should they really lose their jobs over it because of the church they attend? Should they be forced to pay a fine or even go to jail?
That’s what the opponents of Senate Bill 2 wanted to see happen, and that’s what this law prevents.
The law also requires each register of deeds office to ensure that all qualified applicants for marriage licenses are issued a license, and each chief district court judge to ensure that marriages performed by a magistrate are available to be performed during at least ten hours per week over at least three business days.
You probably never heard about that part in all the noise.
So nobody gets turned away. Senate Bill 2 (now Session Law 2015-75) is really nothing more than a reasonable accommodation (remember that phrase) between the right of marriage and the protected rights of individual conscience — even many gay people saw it that way.
In any event, when a family business in Oregon is being fined $135,000 dollars after politely refusing to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, it’s pretty clear that some modest legal protections for these folks might be just what the baker ordered.
After going public with denunciations of the magistrate recusal legislation, and then being forced to admit that Senate Bill 2 was much ado about nothing, the ACLU’s Sarah Preston naturally blamed the Republicans in the General Assembly for the entire controversy. “The legislature made this a bigger deal than it needs to be,” she said.
Most of the legislators we know were pretty quiet about the issue, for fear of poking the progressive social media hornet’s nest. Perhaps what Ms. Preston means is that because only 14 people recused themselves (and maybe because they happened to be Christians) they didn’t really deserve to have their particular American Civil Liberties protected. Either way, she got it wrong.
Let’s not forget that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees “the free exercise of religion.” And Article 1, Section 13 of the North Carolina Constitution protects the “inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences” and states, “no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”
And let’s also not forget the fact that the new law is entirely consistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law which outlaws any discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Section 703 (a) makes it unlawful for an employer to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges or employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The term “religion” as defined by federal law — and according to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission — “includes all aspects of religious observance and practice, as well as belief, unless an employer demonstrates that he is unable to reasonably accommodate an employee’s or prospective employee’s religious observance or practice without undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.”
Reasonable accommodation. That way we can all live happily ever after.
An interesting side note: In an unrelated case involving workplace discrimination at a Dunkin’ Donuts location in Arden, Lynette A. Barnes, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Charlotte District Office, said today that “Religious discrimination is a continuing problem in the American workplace. Under federal laws, employers have an obligation to balance employees’ needs and rights to practice their religion with the conduct of the employer’s business. Where there is a minimal impact on the business, those religious needs must be accommodated.”