Some Same-Sex Marriage Rights Could Disappear If These Laws Pass
It was 5:42 p.m. on a Friday when Rev. Nancy Ellett Allison received a game-changing email from her lawyers about the lawsuit she’d filed along with a group of religious leaders and same-sex couples in North Carolina. Gay marriage had been officially legalized in the state and a federal U.S. District Court judge overturned the ban on same-sex unions on Oct. 10, 2014.
By lunchtime the following Monday, she was performing her first legal same-sex wedding.
“It was a wonderful day, a wonderful time of celebration,” said Allison, who has married a handful of couples since.
Yet, conservative North Carolina legislators want to let government officials refuse service to gay couples and silence those wedding bells with a law that would allow the officials to opt out of “performing duties related to marriage ceremonies” if they have a “sincerely held religious objection.” The bill has passed through state Senate and is in the House for consideration.
As a woman of God herself, Allison thinks religion shouldn’t take precedent over one’s civic duty.
“I think it’s irrelevant, because magistrates do not serve God; magistrates work at the pleasure of the governor for the sake of upholding the laws of North Carolina,” she said.
Although the bill doesn’t explicitly refer to same-sex couples, it’s being seen as a response to the recent victory of marriage equality—and similar attempts to chip away at judicial findings that gay marriage is a constitutional right are taking shape across the country, said Rose Saxe, a senior staff attorney for the ACLU LGBT Project.
“There is definitely a legislative backlash happening in the states,” she said.
Politicians opposed to gay marriage have been proposing new laws across the country, despite the fact that public sentiment and laws have shifted to increasingly support marriage equality—same-sex marriage is now legal in the majority of American states. These types of laws are Plan B for gay marriage opponents, who want to make sure that even if gay marriage is legal, they won’t have to recognize those unions, said Saxe.
In 2015, more than 85 anti-LGBT bills have been filed in 26 state legislatures, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign. Legislatures in South Carolina, Texas, and Missouri are currently considering some of the most extreme bills aimed at challenging LGBT equality, Saxe said.
There are at least four such bills on the table in South Carolina, including one that would withhold the salaries of officials who issue marriage licenses to gay couples, Saxe said. The state is also considering a bill that would allow businesses to discriminate against gay customers and permit state employees to refuse to marry gay couples. Legislators are even pushing for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would change the definition of marriage to between one man and one woman.
Saxe predicts the laws will have a tough time passing, but they’re making a point.
“Some of it is posturing, some of it is making clear to their constituents that they do not support the federal court decision,” she said.
No matter what the reason, this type of legislation shows no sign of slowing, and in fact, there has been a “renewed effort” this year to push these laws through, Saxe said.
“[Gay] marriage is not the end of any kind of battle here.” she added.