By Craig Jarvis and Colin Campbell
State senators made quick work of two bills dealing with contentious social issues Monday night: overriding the governor's veto of legislation related to gay marriage and approving a bill restricting abortions.
The vote was 32-16 to override Gov. Pat McCrory's veto of a bill exempting magistrates from performing marriages if they have a religious objection.
The bill now goes to the House, where Speaker Tim Moore said that he'll schedule an override vote for Wednesday. A three-fifths majority there would allow the bill to become law despite McCrory's objection, but the margin is expected to be closer there because last week's original vote barely met a veto-proof threshold.
As the House takes its vote on the override Wednesday, it will also vote on another McCrory veto: a bill aimed at punishing people who take jobs in order to expose unsafe or inhumane conditions or to steal from their employers. That legislation has been labeled an "ag-gag" bill by its opponents.
One changed mind
Only one senator changed his vote on the magistrates bill after it was first passed in February: Democratic Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte. He'd supported the bill then but later changed his mind, saying he's "not interested in supporting legislation that has the appearance of discrimination."
Three Republicans joined Democrats in voting no: senators John Alexander of Raleigh, Jeff Tarte of Cornelius and Fletcher Hartsell of Concord. Senate Bill 2 would allow magistrates and register of deeds employees to be exempt from performing weddings if they have a religious objection. In his veto, McCrory said no public officials should be allowed to avoid upholding aspects of the law.
Supporters of the bill point out that workers seeking the exemption couldn't perform any type of wedding for at least a six-month period. "I take exception to the governor's characterization" of the legislation, Senate Leader Phil Berger said Monday. "Just because someone takes a job with the government does not mean that they give up their First Amendment rights."
Berger, who sponsored the bill, argued that federal law requires "reasonable accommodations" be made for workers' religious beliefs. Under Senate Bill 2, he said, "everybody gets what they're entitled to under the law."
Democrats said that same-sex couples seeking marriage could be turned away because magistrates and register of deeds employees wouldn't have to seek an exemption in advance. Sen. Angela Bryant, a Rocky Mount Democrat, called that "a gaping loophole."
"There's nothing in the bill to prevent a person from having a spiritual awakening at the time someone they don't want to serve presents themselves for service," she said.
Abortion bill advances
The Senate gave final approval to the bill extending the waiting period for abortions from one day to three, among other new requirements. The bill passed 32-16. Only two members crossed party lines: Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Republican from Hendersonville, and Sen. Bill Rabon, a Republican from Southport, voted against it.
House Bill 465 returns now to the House to concur in changes the Senate made. Most of the changes were the result of stealing provisions from a Democratic senator's bill clarifying who can be charged with statutory rape or sexual offenses and including it in this bill, which most Democrats strongly oppose.
Democrats emphasized in Monday night's floor debate that the bill would impose new restrictions on abortions -- a tactic that may be aimed at Gov. Pat McCrory, who promised during his campaign he would not approve additional restrictions. If the House approves, the bill will go to the governor for his signature, veto or letting it become law without signing it.
"This legislature should not be in the business of creating hurdles to overcome," said Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat from Durham.
Sen. Terry Van Duyn successfully amended the bill to do away with a provision that only board-certified obstetric and gynecology doctors be permitted to perform abortions. Doctors who are sufficiently trained in abortions, abortion complications and miscarriages would also be permitted, under the new wording.
Several Democrats repeated their objections to the bill, mainly that it was an unnecessary and possibly dangerous intrusion into women's lives. For their part, Republicans resisted responding by arguing over a bill that everyone knew was going to pass and that has already been fully debated.
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