Wake County Rep. Grier Martin speaks to reporters about the anticipated religious freedom bill at the N.C. General Assembly Wednesday morning.
It’s the opening day of the 2015 legislative session and some North Carolina lawmakers are making discrimination their top priority.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam has promised a broad religious freedom bill,
which would allow service providers, government officials and business owners to decide who they choose to serve. Senate Pro Tempore Phil Berger has filed a bill
that would exempt court magistrates from marrying same sex couples. The right-wing North Carolina Values Coalition, headed by lobbyist and Senate mother-in-law Tami Fitzgerald, will hold a closed briefing with lawmakers to discuss a potentially discriminatory religious freedom bill Wednesday afternoon.
In other words, forget about education, jobs and the economy, the important issues these lawmakers campaigned on.
At a press conference at the General Assembly Wednesday morning hosted by Equality NC, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, lawmakers who will not support this upcoming legislation emphasized that it is not about “religious freedom” at all.
“This is about fairness, it is about equal protection under the law and it is about working for a North Carolina that looks forward towards a future where everyone has an opportunity to live their fullest life,” said Buncombe County Senator Terry Van Duyn, whose district is home to thousands of same-sex couples and LGBT people. “It is wrong to legitimize discrimination.”
“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 in the past, which ultimately failed after their business communities rallied together to communicate how deeply such legislation would hurt the business climate.
Wake County Representative Grier Martin, 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 and have provided benefits to same-sex partners long before marriage equality.
“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 did not work now, and it is unfair to our citizens.”
Martin added that it would be “unconscionable” to 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:
- A hotel owner who objects to cohabitation outside of marriage could refuse to rent a room to an unmarried couple
- A landlord who believes a man should be the head of a household could refuse to rent an apartment to a single mother
- A guidance counselor could refuse to help a gay teenager by saying it’s against her religious beliefs
- A restaurant could refuse service to gay or transgender customers
Sgro said Equality NC is waiting to see how the legislation will be written—it could be unveiled as early as today—and he urged North Carolina residents to petition their legislators to stand up against any discriminatory new laws.