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One Busy Day: NC GOP Lawmakers Push Through Abortion And Gay Marriage Bills

Photo: Craig Johnson (left) and Shawn Long (center) with their son Isaiah Johnson.
Equality NC
Craig Johnson (left) and Shawn Long (center) were one of nine couples who sued the state seeking the nullification of North Carolina's constitutional ban on gay marriage.

North Carolina lawmakers pushed through two of the year’s most controversial measures on Wednesday afternoon, limiting debate and quickly ushering proposals that could reduce some same-sex couples’ access to marriage ceremonies and extend the waiting period for abortion procedures.

While House and Senate members debated in separate hearings, the measures over gay marriage and abortions are intertwined social issues that attract vigorous advocacy from conservative and liberal groups.

Both proposals were approved with Republican support largely along party lines, and are likely to land on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk this week. The House tentatively passed Senate Bill 2, which would allow magistrates to recuse themselves from officiating at weddings, if they oppose gay marriage. And a key Senate committee approved House Bill 465, which would extend women’s waiting period for an abortion to three days from one.

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the gay marriage bill is being heard in committee the same say as the abortion bill,” Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, said. “They want to get this controversial social legislation done as quickly as possible because there are only so many stories you can run in a daily newspaper.”

Magistrate Recusal From Same-Sex Unions

Senate Bill 2—which was filed by Senate Leader Phil Berger, perhaps the state’s most powerful elected official—would allow magistrates to recuse themselves from weddings, if they claim a religious objection to unions between people of the same gender. The bill is a response to federal court rulings in October that lifted the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. It would require courts to offer marriage services to same-sex couples for at least 10 hours over three days of the week.

The bill was approved by a 65-43 vote that was largely divided along party lines. During nearly three hours of debate, several Republican supporters invoked religious beliefs as their motivation for supporting the bill.

“It at least provides protection for certain officials against government coercion to participate in the celebration something that they consider perverted and morally unconscionable,” Rep. Larry Pittman, a Republican from Cabarrus County, said.

“How long will it be before the same coercion is applied to pastors or other clergy? This bill attempts to pull us back from that slippery slope.”

Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Cumberland County, responded on the House floor that the bill could open the door to other public employees refusing to perform certain duties for religious objections. For example, he said, a police officer could refuse to investigate a case in which the victim is gay.

And Rep. Grier Martin, a Democrat from Wake County, said the proposed legislation is similar to now abolished literacy laws that discriminated against black voters.

“It applied to folks of all races. You had to be quote-unquote literate in order to vote,” Martin said. “But we all know who that was aimed at, and we all know who this vote here is aimed at also.”

Extended Waiting Period For Abortions

House Bill 465, now titled the “Women and Children’s Protection Act,” would triple to three days the amount of time women would have to wait for an abortion after making initial contact to a provider. If it became law, the bill would give North Carolina one of the longest waiting periods for abortions, with Missouri, South Dakota and Utah. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 26 states have mandated waiting periods.

The bill also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to annually inspect clinics where abortions are performed; requires physicians performing abortions on the 16th week of pregnancy to report their methodology and findings to the health department; and creates protections for health care providers who object to abortions on religious or moral grounds.

Republican members of a Senate judiciary committee approved the bill in a room filled to capacity. The bill is expected to be approved by the full Senate and sent to the governor on Thursday.

“I think the majority of the bill was protection of some of these young girls who have gotten pregnant and want to make sure they’re in a safe environment,” Sen. Stan Bingham, a Republican from Davidson County, said.

Originally titled “An Act to Clarify and Modify Certain Laws Pertaining to Abortion,” Senate Republicans widened the scope of the bill, amending it to include provisions from a proposal filed by Jackson, the Democrat from Mecklenburg County, on statutory rape and domestic violence.

Jackson said he voted against the bill, even though it contained provisions he supports, because of the process in which it was written.

“My vote is going to be against the way politics is being practiced in Raleigh right now,” Jackson said.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
Jeff Tiberii covers politics for WUNC. Before that, he served as the station's Greensboro Bureau Chief.
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