Updated: Gay Marriage, Abortion Measures Closer to Passage
Updated 11:09 PM Wednesday:
Two controversial bills: one concerning gay marriage, the other abortion, are closer to becoming law after votes Wednesday.
North Carolina legislators are nearing final approval on legislation allowing some North Carolina court officials to opt out of same-sex marriage duties based on "sincerely held religious" objections.
The House gave its tentative approval Wednesday to give the option to magistrates and some registers of deeds employees, but they would have to stop performing duties for all gay and heterosexual couples.
The Senate already approved the bill, which came after civil gay marriage was legalized in North Carolina last October when federal courts struck down the state's constitutional gay marriage ban.
The measure now needs just one more House vote before it goes to Gov. Pat McCrory's desk. He's expressed opposition to the religious exemption idea but hasn't said whether he would veto it.
Meanwhile, a state Senate committee has approved a proposal for North Carolina to join the handful of states that require a 72-hour waiting period for abortions.
Sen. Shirley Randleman is co-chairman of the committee. She says the bill will head next to a vote on the Senate floor. The House has already passed the proposal.
The hearing by a Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday included comments by people for and against the proposal.
Women would have to talk to a doctor 72 hours before having an abortion, unless there's a medical emergency. Three other states have 72-hour waiting periods: Missouri, South Dakota and Utah. Oklahoma's waiting period of that length goes into effect in November.
Senate Republicans also have expanded the bill to include provisions related to several criminal justice issues.
Also Wednesday, a Senate panel agreed to eliminate North Carolina's long-standing Sunday hunting ban with guns, with an exemption.
The Senate agriculture committee voted Wednesday for a measure to allow hunting with a gun on private property on Sundays, but only after noon.
Other exemptions remain in place. Sunday firearm hunting would still be banned in Wake and Mecklenburg counties and anywhere else within 500 yards of a church or nearby homes.
The other 98 counties could pass their own Sunday hunting prohibitions starting in October 2017 if they don't like the change. Sunday bow hunting is already allowed.
The bill now goes to the full Senate.
Some of the most contested and impassioned issues of this year's North Carolina General Assembly are coming up for debate.
A House judiciary panel planned to take up Senate legislation on Wednesday that would allow certain court officials to refuse to participate in same-sex marriage duties on religious grounds. The magistrates and assistant registers of deeds would be prohibited from duties for all marriages. House Speaker Tim Moore said Tuesday the bill could come to the House floor later Wednesday.
Senate committees also plan hearings on House measures that would extend the abortion waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.
The House sponsors say they want to give pregnant women more time to collect more information before making a difficult decision. They also are hopeful that it will lead to fewer abortions.
Abortion-rights activists say the extra 48 hours is medically unnecessary and demeans the ability of women to make their own choice.
The House passed the bill along party lines favoring Republicans.
Only three states have a 72 hour waiting period.
Another House measure before a Senate panel would allow appellate court judges to run in retention elections.