North Carolina lawmakers override governor to allow 'opt-out' of same-sex marriage
Female minister performs a same-sex marriage ceremony (Shutterstock)

Government officials in North Carolina can refuse to perform same-sex marriages by citing religious objections under a new law pushed through on Thursday by the Republican-led legislature, which voted to override the governor's veto.

The law protects the jobs of magistrates and other officials who refuse to perform marriages of gay couples by citing a “sincerely held religious objection.”

Governor Pat McCrory, also a Republican, had said the officials who swore to defend the Constitution and perform their duties of office should not be exempt from upholding their oath.

The state House of Representatives on Thursday overrode his veto by reaching the three-fifths majority in a 69-41 vote. The state Senate held a similar vote earlier this month.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore said in a statement after the vote that the law “protects sincerely held religious beliefs while also ensuring that magistrates are available in all jurisdictions to perform lawful marriages.”

Once they have asked to opt out in writing, magistrates would be barred from performing any marriage, gay or heterosexual, for six months.

Gay rights advocates said a court challenge is expected.

"This bill, which will now become law, is discriminatory and treats gay and lesbian couples as second class citizens," Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of the advocacy group Campaign for Southern Equality, said in a statement.

A court decision last year invalidated a North Carolina law banning same-sex marriage. Gay marriage is legal in 37 states and Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide by the end of June whether same-sex marriage should be legal nationwide.