On the opening day of the 2015 legislative session, several North Carolina lawmakers made discrimination their top priority.
Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger filed Senate Bill 2, which would exempt court magistrates from performing marriages for same-sex couples. The right-wing North Carolina Values Coalition, headed by lobbyist Tami Fitzgerald—also the mother-in-law of state Sen. Chad Barefoot—held a closed briefing with lawmakers to discuss the "religious freedom" bill.
In other words, forget about education, jobs and the economy—the important issues these lawmakers campaigned on.
At a press conference hosted by Equality NC, the state's largest LGBT advocacy organization, progressive lawmakers emphasized that it is not about "religious freedom" at all.
"This is about ensuring that all the laws in North Carolina are followed by those who have sworn to uphold them," added freshman Senator and ordained minister Erica Smith-Ingram, who represents eight counties in the eastern part of the state. "It makes no sense whatsoever to allow our magistrates to use their own discretion in how they administer the law."
Republican-led states Georgia and Arizona tried to introduce similar discriminatory bills, which ultimately failed after their business communities rallied against the legislation.
State Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake), noting the area's high-tech economy and global appeal, said the companies already here and those likely to relocate to the Triangle have many openly gay employees. These businesses provided benefits to same-sex partners long before marriage equality became law.
"If they see that a state is trying to discriminate against their employees, they are less likely to continue to bring jobs here," Martin said. "We have tried separate but equal before in this country. It did not work then and it does not work now, and it is unfair to our citizens."
Martin added that it would be "unconscionable" for an openly gay member of the military to, after serving the country, "show up at a taxpayer-funded magistrate's office and be told that that magistrate won't marry them."
Equality NC's executive director Chris Sgro provided a few examples of how a religious freedom bill could affect North Carolinians, and not just gays and lesbians.
A hotel owner who objects to cohabitation outside of marriage could refuse service to an unmarried couple.
A restaurant could refuse service to gay or transgender customers.
A guidance counselor could refuse to help a gay teenager.
A landlord who believes a man should be the head of a household could refuse to rent an apartment to a single mother.
Play the McCrory State of the State Drinking Game
Every time Gov. Pat McCrory says "jobs" in his State of the State address, take a shot of your favorite rotgut. Stock up at the ABC store and prepare for the gala event on Wednesday, Feb. 4, 7 p.m. And please don't drive, because you'll be wasted.