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Today, on the 48th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision striking down state laws banning interracial marriage in the case of Loving v. Virginia, condemnations continue to pour in from across the country for North Carolina’s absurd and offensive new marriage discrimination law. Here are just a few:

From Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Senate leader Phil Berger, the champion of the measure, says it protects the religious freedom of public servants who have religious objections to same-sex marriage. But this is not about protecting religion. It is about respecting the law. With this vote, the majority has scoffed at it….

In its defiant rejection of that message, the General Assembly once more raises that flag of intolerance over North Carolina as it did when it approved an amendment to the state Constitution banning same-sex marriage. That flag is seen nationwide. It will be another signal of the state’s rightward turn and another reason why businesses and people will less inclined to make a new home in North Carolina. Even if Democrats reclaimed the General Assembly, it would be years before the state’s image could heal from the battering this current legislative leadership is giving it.”

From the Greensboro News & Record:

“Now the state will have to live with the consequences of a law that is not only discriminatory but, as the governor labeled it, unconstitutional. It will draw yet more legal challenges. This legislature is costing taxpayers many millions of dollars in lawyers’ fees and losing one court ruling after another. This will be one more….In the meantime, North Carolina makes itself known across the country for enacting a law that says some people can expect less service than others in state offices. It’s a shame. Having enough votes doesn’t put the legislature in the right.”

From the New Yorker magazine:

“Proposals to let magistrates withhold marriage licenses have the same problems, with the added insult that the discrimination is effectively coming from the state. If officials can decide not to implement laws they dislike, then equality under the law—for gay couples, at least —is just a slogan.”

From the Orange County, California Register:

“SB2 violates civil rights and insults human dignity. As did anti-miscegenation laws, it would violate constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection of the law. United States v. Windsor, in which the high court in 2013 struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, affirmed that ‘state laws defining or regulating marriage, of course, must respect the constitutional rights of persons.’”

The bottom line: North Carolina is once again the butt of jokes and derision around the country and the world and the Raleigh reign of error continues.

Commentary
House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore

Today’s vote in the North Carolina House of Representatives to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2 — lawmakers’ latest effort to preserve some precious shreds of hate and discrimination in state marriage law — was absurd and offensive for a number of reasons.

There was the substance of the new law that will surely cost the state boatloads of money to defend against constitutional challenges — challenges that will almost certainly prevail.

There was the hypocrisy of the bill sponsors and defenders — all of whom somehow developed a passion for “religious freedom” of magistrates despite having voted countless times themselves without blinking an eye to impose duties on other public officials that could quite conceivably violate those other officials’  “religious beliefs.”

If there was a most outrageous and offensive aspect of today’s developments, however, it was not the substance of the legislation but the ridiculous “process” that House leaders employed to do their dirty deed.

Two-hundred and forty seconds. That’s how long it took for House leaders to run their little orchestrated kangaroo session. You can see the entire charade by clicking here and watching between the 5:30 and 9:30 marks on the video.

You see, House leaders couldn’t be bothered to allow the issue — a hugely divisive and important matter that desperately needed more illumination — to be discussed thoroughly on the floor of the people’s house (the Governor of the state had acted upon it for heaven’s sake!).

Rather than allowing members to discuss it (and maybe even allow a few more of the 10 members who were absent to show up for session or, God forbid, for some people to listen to the debate and think), they brought the bill up without warning immediately at the start of what had been expected to be a quiet session and then “called the question” — thus shutting off debate. Read More

Commentary

George WallaceThe decision of North Carolina House to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2 this morning comes on an appropriate anniversary in American history.

As the Jackson Mississippi Clarion-Ledger reminds us this morning:

“June 11, 1963: Alabama Governor George Wallace stood in front of a schoolhouse door at the University of Alabama in an attempt to stop desegregation by the enrollment of two African-American students, Vivian Malone and James Hood. Wallace stood aside after being confronted by federal marshals, Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and the Alabama National Guard. Later in life, Wallace apologized for his opposition to racial integration.”

Let’s hope it doesn’t take long for officials of the United States government to ask state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore to step aside (and that Berger and Moore don’t take as long as Wallace did to apologize for their embarrassing actions).

Commentary

steamroller1The hits (and slashes and burns) to North Carolina’s ever-more-fragile natural environment just keep on a comin’ at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Yesterday morning, while few people were watching, a Senate Committee unveiled and quickly approved yet another new proposal to lay waste to environmental rules (and a lot more of the state’s land and water that they helped protect). The good folks at the state chapter of the Sierra Club provided the following helpful and disheartening summary:

“From Mowing Lawns to Mowing Down Buffers?

An innocuous House measure dealing with local government authority to address overgrown vegetation was reconstituted on Wednesday morning into yet another omnibus regulatory reform bill.

House Bill 44 (Cities/Overgrown Vegetation Notice) was renamed “Local Government Regulatory Reform” in Wednesday’s Senate Agriculture and Environment Committee. The new version of the bill was then adopted which, among other provisions, would allow large portions of the middle and lower Neuse River watershed as well as the Tar-Pamlico River watershed to be exempted from the state’s vegetated buffer requirements that protect water quality for nutrient-sensitive waters.

The Neuse and the Tar-Pamlico are two of North Carolina’s largest watersheds. The provision (Section 13) would effectively exempt most properties in the affected areas, allowing much larger loads of pollution to enter the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico estuaries. [Note: An amendment offered by Sen. John Alexander (R-Wake County) that was adopted by the committee takes the upper Neuse River basin out of the bill, thereby protecting Falls Lake from the proposals in this bill.]

Another buffer provision (Section 14) in the newly repackaged bill would also severely reduce the size and efficacy of coastal wetlands buffers which are so important for protecting our estuaries and seafood industry.

North Carolina adopted a system of vegetated buffers to protect water quality following the events of the mid 1990’s, when massive fish kills occurred on the Neuse due to agricultural runoff depleting the oxygen in the waters.

Some of the buffer provisions in the new H 44 mirror provisions in H 760, Regulatory Reform Act of 2015, which has been awaiting action in the Senate since the first week of May.

Another provision in the bill (Section 7) would make it significantly harder for local communities to create bike lanes by requiring a majority vote of the NC Board of Transportation for what is now a local government decision. .

H 44 has no other committee stops in the Senate and is calendared to be on the Senate floor later today. If passed, it would return to the House for concurrence.”

Commentary

Nobody wants there to be more abortions in North Carolina. The issue is women’s health and the fact that thousands of women every year must grapple with unintended pregnancies. Happily, as the lead editorial in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer reminds us, there is a way to get after both problems: readily accessible birth control:

“The number of abortions in North Carolina has been dropping sharply even as Republican legislators step up efforts to make the procedure more difficult to obtain.

The decline was documented in an Associated Press survey of 45 states that keep abortion records. North Carolina had the nation’s second-biggest drop with the number of abortions falling 26 percent from 2010 to 2013. Nationwide, the survey showed a decrease in abortions of about 12 percent since 2010.”

But, as the editorial also notes:

“There’s no evidence that women choosing against abortion because of new state restrictions are numerous enough to account for the drop. The Associated Press survey found that abortions also were down in states that haven’t tightened their laws. The biggest decrease in abortion, percentage-wise, was in Hawaii, a state with relatively liberal abortion policies….

What is accounting for the decrease in abortions is a decrease in the condition that precedes an abortion: pregnancy. In North Carolina, according to the latest statistics available, reported pregnancies dropped from 148,922 in 2010 to 139,582 in 2013. Abortions likewise fell from 30,952 to 22,820.”

In other words:

“The way to further reduce abortion in North Carolina isn’t to cut funding for Planned Parenthood but to increase funding for sex education and contraception.”

What a tragedy it is that those who fight to ban abortion and send women back to the back alleys (are you listening Governor McCrory?) can’t at least see this reality and join the effort to stop unintended pregnancies from happening in the first place.