By Bob Allen
The Baptist leader of a North Carolina public policy advocacy group credited pressure from conservative Christians for a House vote overriding the governor’s veto of a bill allowing state court officials to refuse to perform same-sex marriages for religious reasons.
Mark Creech, a former Southern Baptist pastor who now leads the Christian Action League of North Carolina, said June 11 that efforts to “stir grassroots citizen Christians” to contact their representatives in the House urging them to override Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of the marriage bill paid off in hundreds of calls and emails made a difference in Thursday’s 69-41 vote to pass the law.
“I am reminded of a story in Luke chapter 17, where 10 lepers besought our Lord Jesus to heal them. He did. But in all of their excitement, only one leper returned to give thanks,” said Creech, who lobbies on behalf of 15 Christian denominations including the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.
“I want to encourage you to pause where you are and give thanks to God for this very critical legislative victory,” Creech said. “As the Doxology we sing in church says, ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow.’”
Senate Bill 2, which takes effect immediately, allows magistrates to recuse themselves from performing duties related to marriage ceremonies “due to sincerely held religious objection.”
McCrory, a Republican who signed the bill targeted in clergy-led “Moral Monday” civil disobedience protests, vetoed the marriage bill May 28. The former mayor of Charlotte said he believes marriage is between a man and a woman but “no public official who voluntarily swears to support and defend the Constitution and to discharge all duties of their office should be exempt from upholding that oath.”
Creech responded with an “urgent action alert” June 8 describing “religious liberty at a tipping point” in the Tar Heel State.
“The governor must be listening to the wrong voices on this measure,” Creech said. “The bill simply provides a religious accommodation that creates a delicate balance between a magistrates’ and register of deeds’ religious liberty rights with the current law on marriage. Magistrates and Register of Deeds under the new law would not be violating their oath, nor would they be picking and choosing who they serve because it requires them to recuse themselves from the performance of ALL marriages. The legislation works to protect their jobs and shield them from disciplinary action or prosecution.”
The following day Creech sent out another alert addressed specifically to pastors.
“Today, our nation is threatened by new forms of tyranny, but unfortunately, all too often, pastors are silent,” he said. “There is currently a need for pastors to speak up for religious liberty in North Carolina.”
Creech said in an editorial the legislation became necessary after federal court rulings knocked down the state’s constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman, adopted in 2012 with 61 percent voter approval. At least 16 magistrates subsequently resigned, he said, including eight who were known to have religious objections to performing gay nuptials.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State predicted that North Carolina legislators will one day regret voting for a bill likely to spark costly litigation.
“By enshrining discrimination into law, North Carolina’s lawmakers just signed a full-employment act for civil liberties lawyers,” said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. “Unfortunately, the state’s taxpayers will be stuck with the tab.”
On June 11 Creech urged followers to follow up with a thank-you note to lawmakers who voted to override the governor’s veto. “
“Lastly, we’ve been working hard on SB 2, as well as many other bills, this legislative session,” Creech added. “We need your financial assistance. Won’t you help us now with a gift of $10, $20, $50, $100, or more?”