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marriage amendmentYesterday afternoon, members of the public were given an opportunity to share their thoughts on Senate Bill 2 before the House Judiciary I Committee. The bill, which would permit magistrates and registers of deeds to recuse themselves from performing same-sex marriages due to their religious beliefs, has been hotly contested since it was first introduced in late January.

During the meeting, opponents of the bill stressed the difference between the civil duty of magistrates and the religious freedom of clergy. They also reminded the committee that government officials shouldn’t be allowed to refuse to perform a duty which is part of their job when it deprives the public of a right. However, disagreement between committee members on whether performing civil marriages is the duty of a magistrate or a power given to him provided evidence that many legislators are still missing the point.

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Guilford Co. Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen

Senate Bill 2, the controversial proposal to allow North Carolina magistrates to avoid their duty to perform marriages for same-sex couples was whisked through the state Senate’s Judiciary II Committee today as thousands of North Carolinians remained stranded by an unexpected snowstorm. By my watch, the meeting featured all of eight minutes in public comment on what is, by any fair assessment, a proposal of great import and serious constitutional implications.

Of course, the lightning-fast review was no accident. When you’re selling a proposal that’s a gussied up effort to legalize discrimination and “separate but equal” public services, it’s best not to linger in any one place for too long lest people quickly see through the pancake makeup.

Let’s hope that, at some point, public outrage at the proposal (see for instance, today’s edition of the Fitzsimon File) forces lawmakers to apply the brakes to this particular train so that additional rational voices can be heard.

In this vein, a great example would be Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen. here is a letter Thigpen sent to the memberso the Judiciary II Committee via email at 7:40 this morning:

Dear Judiciary II Committee members,

I learned late yesterday SB 2 had been put on the calendar for hearing today. It’s snowing in Guilford County and Schools are closed. I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend but I wanted to express a number of concerns I have with the bill, specifically regarding the Register of Deeds provisions. They are as follows:

1) A “sincerely held religious objection” is not defined. If a Catholic employee discovers an applicant is applying for a second marriage, can they file a religious objection based on this bill?

2) As a manager, Register of Deeds will be put on notice by their employee(s) regarding their religious objection (which is not defined). There is no due diligence or deliberation regarding this matter. The employee is given power, without question, to state the religious objection and immediately be exempted from issuing marriage licenses to ANY citizen. The employee is then given a six month free pass from performing their duties processing marriage licenses.

This can have a serious impact on our daily operations and undermines our role as managers of our offices. Read More

Commentary

If crazy ol’ Keith Olbermann was still hosting is MSNBC news and commentary show these days, you can bet that former Arkansas Governor-turned-semi-permanent-Presidential-candidate Mike Huckabee would be a strong contender for the today’s “Worst Person in the World” award.

As Associated Press reported yesterday via WRAL.com:

“Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Sunday said being gay is akin to choosing to drink alcohol or use profanity — lifestyle choices he says are appealing to others but not to him.

The former Baptist pastor, who is weighing a second run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, also claimed that forcing people of faith to accept gay marriage as policy is on par with telling Jews that they must serve ‘bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli.’ That dish would run afoul of kosher rules in the same way Huckabee sees asking Christians to accept same-sex marriages.”

Sadly, this kind of hateful and ignorant talk appears to be exactly what some on the far right are looking for. Witness the latest glowing Huckabee reviews from the “nonpartisan” Pope-Civitas Institute, which brought Huckabee to speak at a church in Charlotte last week (with a fee for admission, with those who paid more getting better seats) and then posted a pair of glowing reviews of the man and his likely candidacy (here and here) on its blog.

The bottom line: We’ve come a long way fast in recent years when it comes to overcoming fear, ignorance and discrimination in this country, but if Mike Huckabee and his ilk were to have their way, that progress would come to a screeching halt.
Commentary

Robert PittengerThe story of Congressman Robert Pittenger’s clearly genuine but remarkably disturbing comments in favor of the right of employers to fire people because of their sexual orientation just keeps getting weirder. Now, Pittenger is a denying the substance of the comments that he once “stood by” and that were recorded in full. Think Progress has the full story:

Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) is now claiming that he did not make comments supporting anti-LGBT employment discrimination, as reported by ThinkProgress earlier this month.

At a town hall event in Ballantyne, North Carolina, ThinkProgress asked Pittenger: “Do you think businesses should be able to fire someone because they are gay or lesbian?” He replied that businesses should have the “autonomy” to fire workers for being LGBT, and asked rhetorically: “Why should government be there to impose on the freedoms we enjoy?”

The Charlotte Observer picked up the story, and reported that when they called Pittenger to confirm the quotes, the congressman “stood by his comments.” Read More

Commentary

Doesn’t it seem that the nation’s progress and momentum in implementing the Affordable Care Act (and, in particular, Medicaid expansion) is starting to resemble the slow but steady (and inevitable) progress on marriage equality?

Talking Points Memo has the story today of the latest conservative state to be talking openly of a plan to expand Medicaid — it’s our neighbor to the west Tennessee:

In a growing trend, Tennessee looks like it will be the next Republican-led state to move toward expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.

Right now, of course, North Carolina is in the “no” camp on both issues. The bet here, however, is that this won’t be the case come the 2016 election.

Click here and here to see two maps that reveal the trends.