It was either a brazen act of defiance by the legislative branch of government or tomfoolery masquerading as the democratic process. But in overriding Governor Pat McCrory's veto of Senate Bill 2, lawmakers in North Carolina demonstrates their opposition to same-gender marriage is greater than their understanding of and adherence to the Constitution of the United States.
Senate Bill 2 allows magistrates and clerks to recuse themselves from all marriages due to religious objections. Though the law states "all" marriages (heterosexual and same-gender) the intent of the law is to push back against same-gender marriage, which is legal in North Carolina.
On the day Governor McCrory vetoed Senate Bill 2, he stated:
I recognize 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. However, we are a nation and a state of laws. Whether it is the president, governor, mayor, a law enforcement officer or magistrate, 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.
He also said in a statement following the override: "It's a disappointing day for the rule of law and the process of passing legislation in North Carolina."
Taken together, McCrory's statements sum up the problem with this law.
If one supports the Legislature's actions perhaps the outcome trumps other considerations. But our system of government cannot function based solely on whether the outcome meets with our particular desires.
Senate Bill 2 is a reactionary law; and the history of reactionary laws is a sketchy one. Often times these laws are enacted in response to an event or action to prevent further acts from reoccurring.
In many cases these laws, which tend to be focused on specific issues, are unable to account for the unintended consequences. Reactionary laws can restrict freedoms and at times create additional problems.
The Patriot Act is a recent example of a reactionary law gone awry. Regardless of its intent, it became a law that restricted freedoms, making the problem worse because it infringed on the 4th Amendment.
But Senate Bill 2 is a spectacular display of overreach. It took civil servants, providing a civil service, in a civil institution, creating a loophole that required ignoring the 1st and 14th Amendments.
Faith has never possessed a role in the same-gender marriage debate. As I have opined in previous columns, no one in America is officially married until that union is filed with state and local government. Churches have always enjoyed the constitutionally protected right to decide the unions they wish to officiate, but they cannot claim marriage is a wholly owned subsidiary of the church.
It is the 14th Amendment where the justification of same-gender marriage lies. All citizens are provided equal protection under the laws. Moreover, it was the ratification of the 14th Amendment that made the Bill of Rights applicable to the states, under the doctrine of incorporation.
The First Amendment clearly prohibits making laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. But the North Carolina legislature has made a law where government officials can invoke their particular religious doctrine when deciding to carry out laws that they have taken a sworn oath to fulfill.
Does this not strike at the words of Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptist when he maintained there must be a "wall of separation between church and state?"
The spirit of the law is to potentially deny some taxpayers a service that is funded by all taxpayers. When has laws that exclude made the country better?
Senate Bill 2 law reflects a recalcitrant attitude, undermining not only the Constitution but also the collective attitude toward gay marriage in the country. A recent Gallup poll indicates 66 percent of the nation support same-gender marriage.
Imagine if the North Carolina legislature would spend as much time improving public education, where it consistently hovers near or at the bottom nationally, as it has setting up roadblocks for the LGBT community. What if their energies were focused more on inclusion rather than exclusion?
Alas, the spirit of Nero lives on.