When the state House passed its budget last week, Rep. Chuck McGrady noted its bipartisan support in a tweet that captured what the House leadership wanted people to think was happening in the General Assembly.
“Sounds like the Speaker is leading from the middle,” McGrady wrote, extolling the allegedly moderate leadership of House Speaker Tim Moore. Folks can disagree about the virtues and flaws in the House budget—which falls well short of making the investments the state needs—but it is indeed less radical than budgets passed by either chamber of the legislature in recent years.
All signs of moderation vanished this week. The House passed legislation allowing magistrates and other public officials to refuse to marry same-same sex couples if they have a “sincerely held religious belief” against marriage equality.
North Carolina would be the first state in the country to approve the likely unconstitutional law that would allow public employees to refuse services to taxpayers who are legally eligible to receive them based on some undefined religious objection. A similar proposal in Texas failed to pass after corporations opposed it.
That didn’t deter the plans of supporters on the House floor. Their arguments bounced back and forth between the bizarre claim that the religious freedom of magistrates was at stake and hate-filled fundamentalist religious rants that included homophobic references to gay marriage as perversion and equating it to incest.
One lawmaker suggested that gay couples could find a friend who could go online and obtain a certificate allowing him to perform marriages.
Rep. Bert Jones, who made the offensive incest reference by saying that allowing gay marriage could open the door to people marrying their mother, also told his fellow House members that same-sex marriage was against God’s will and that the state should “expect his blessings to disappear.”
Rep. Dean Arp admitted during the House debate that there was no definition of sincerely held religious belief, raising the specter that magistrates could refuse to marry interracial couples too, taking the state back to the Jim Crow era, a fact pointed out powerfully by Rep. Kelly Alexander and other House members against codifying discrimination.
But none of that mattered to the Republican majority in the House or to Speaker Tim Moore who voted for the discrimination bill too.
It’s relatively rare for the Speaker to vote but Moore apparently wanted to make sure people knew he supported allowing public employees to refuse services to people eligible to receive them.
And it wasn’t just the House where the right-wing flags were flying. The Senate took up legislation requiring women to wait 72 hours after consulting with a doctor to have an abortion. Only four other states impose such a waiting period on women accessing what is legal medical procedure.
The bill also requires doctors to send the patients’ ultrasounds to the Department of Health and Human Services, along with information about how the doctor determined the age of the fetus. Supporters of that provision couldn’t explain why it was necessary, though the harassment and intimidation of physicians are obvious, not to mention having private medicals records sent to a state agency.
And if all that wasn’t offensive enough, Senate leaders attached unrelated provisions strengthening the state’s statutory rape law and other protections for children to the extreme anti-abortion legislation.
Sen. Jeff Jackson, a former prosecutor and the sponsor of the unrelated provisions, rightly called the maneuver ugly and a crass attempt to gain fodder for political commercials.
Add it all up and it was quite a week at the General Assembly, passing legislation to allow discrimination against gay couples and interracial couples too, putting new restrictions on access to a legal medical procedure and using laws to protect children for political gain.
There’s no moderation—or decency here. Just cynical, far-right fundamentalist politics well out of the mainstream in North Carolina.
So far Rep. McGrady hasn’t tweeted anything at all about that.