The North Carolina Senate voted on Wednesday to allow government officials to be recused from performing same-sex marriages by citing "sincerely held religious beliefs," a move that could impede marriage equality in the state if it passes the House at the end of the week. Same-sex marriage became legal in North Carolina last year, after a federal court order overturned a 2012 referendum banning the unions.
According to Reuters, a number of the government employees who issue marriage licenses -- known in North Carolina as magistrates -- threatened to resign when faced with the obligation to perform same-sex unions, which they argue is a violation of their religious freedom. The legislature decided to intervene with legislation that helps magistrates avoid resignation or termination in the name of "religious liberty":
While the bill does not mention gay marriage explicitly, it allows employees to recuse themselves from performing marriages by citing a “sincerely held religious objection.”
After submitting their objections in writing, magistrates would be barred from performing any marriage for six months or until they removed their objections. [...]
The bill, which also applies to the registers of deeds who issue marriage certificates, would require local governments to ensure that eligible couples are not denied the right to marry.
LGBT rights supporters have criticized the measure as discriminatory, with opposition echoing that directed at so-called religious freedom restoration acts in several other states. One such proposed law, in Georgia, drew attention earlier this week after the state's former attorney general (and a past defender of anti-LGBT sodomy laws) called religious liberty measures "an excuse to discriminate."