Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Friday, May 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judges Say Gay Marriage Forced Them Out

(CN) - Two former magistrates sued the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts claiming it violated their religious rights by forcing them to participate in same-sex marriage ceremonies or face discipline, termination, and even criminal prosecution.

Gilbert Breedlove and Thomas Holland claim in a lawsuit filed in the Wake County Superior Court that they resigned from their positions after the AOC and its director, John Smith, made no attempt to accommodate their religious beliefs while attempting to comply with the change in law on same-sex marriage.

Instead, they say, the AOC forced them to choose between "taking an act that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs or being criminally prosecuted."

Faced with these options, Breedlove and Holland resigned "under duress." They are now asking the court to reinstate them to their jobs.

Holland lives in Graham County, N.C. and served as a magistrate for almost 24 years until he resigned on November 1, 2014. In the lawsuit he says he professes and practices his religion as a Christian and has done so for all of his adult life. He was raised a Baptist and "believes that same-sex marriage violates the principles and edicts of his religion." Therefore, "he sincerely believes that he cannot maintain his religious beliefs and simultaneously participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony."

Breedlove, a former Marine, lives in Swain County, N.C. and served as a magistrate for about 24 years until he resigned on October 21, 2014. He too is a Christian and is a member of the New Testament Independent Missionary Baptist Church. Breedlove believes that participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony places him "at odds with his religious beliefs."

After the federal courts issued an order declaring that it is unconstitutional for North Carolina not to recognize same-sex marriages, the AOC issued a statement that said, "Magistrates should begin immediately conducting marriages of all couples presenting a marriage license issued by the Register of Deeds."

"A failure to do so would be a violation of the U.S. Constitution under the federal ruling," Smith wrote, "and would constitute a violation of the oath and a failure to perform a duty of the office. For these reasons, all magistrates must treat same-sex marriages for which a marriage license has been issued by the Register of Deeds the same way that marriages between a man and a woman are scheduled and conducted."

Smith said that if a magistrate refuses to perform same-sex marriages, then he or she could be suspended, removed from office, and potentially face criminal charges. Smith said the reason for the magistrate's removal didn't matter. In other words, there were no exemptions offered in the AOC's policy for a magistrate to avoid participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony for any reason, religious or otherwise, the lawsuit says.

In a letter to N.C. Senator Phil Berger on November 5, 2014, Smith stated that "the AOC would not accommodate any magistrate who felt compelled to refuse to participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony for religious reasons and that any magistrate who attempted to avoid participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony could face civil liability."

According to the complaint, Smith, "basically said that if a magistrate has a religious objection to participating in a same-sex marriage ceremony, the magistrate should resign."

The N.C. Constitution, however, states that "all persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. . . . No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws; nor shall any person be subjected to discrimination by the State because of race, color, religion, or national origin."

Holland and Breedlove's faith is based on a "foundational belief that marriage is the sacred union of one man and one woman." Therefore, according to the complaint, they "cannot participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony because doing so would force them to act in contravention of their sincerely held religious beliefs."

The plaintiffs asked the AOC to accommodate their religious beliefs in a way that would not force them to choose between violating their religious beliefs or resigning their position as a magistrate. The AOC, however, "made no effort to attempt to offer some alternative that would address Plaintiffs' request."

"Defendants have an obligation to perform their duties in a manner consistent with the North Carolina Constitution including not interfering with Plaintiffs' rights protected by Article I, Section 13 and not discriminating against Plaintiffs on the basis of religion as prohibited by Article I, Section 19," the complaint says.

As a result of the AOC's refusal to accommodate, Holland and Breedlove were forced to resign. They now seek a declaration that the defendants' direction and policy discriminated against them and violated Article I, Sections 13 and 19 of the N.C. Constitution.

Holland and Breedlove seek a determination by the court that they should be reinstated to their positions as magistrates with all back pay and lost benefits. They also seek a preliminary and permanent injunction, enjoining Smith and the AOC, and anyone acting in or on their behalf, from mandating that Holland and Breedlove must participate in a same-sex marriage ceremony without as much as an attempt to offer accommodation for them.

Plaintiffs' lead counsel is Ellis Boyle of Raleigh, N.C.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.