RALEIGH, N.C. — Two magistrates in North Carolina are suing the state, claiming their religious rights were violated when they were told they must serve all citizens seeking marriage licenses. The magistrates claim they have a right not to serve same-gender couples.
Former Moore County Magistrate Charlie Smoak, who resigned in protest of legalized gay marriage on Dec. 31, has filed the suit in Wake County, along with a “Jane Doe” plaintiff who is still working and wishes to remain anonymous.
The lawsuit alleges that state court officials violated their rights when they told all magistrates in the state they must perform all legal marriages or face suspension, termination, fines or criminal prosecution.
Advocates for the state’s LGBT community have condemned the lawsuit, calling a “futile attempt by a few magistrates to ‘pick and choose’ which laws they follow.”
Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina, added that state employees and officials have an obligation to serve all citizens equally.
“No one can tell any North Carolina magistrate or any other public official what they can or cannot believe,” Sgro said. “But if they want to be magistrates in North Carolina, they cannot stop doing their jobs simply because they don’t want to follow the law as it exists, deny fellow taxpaying North Carolinians basic services, and, in the process, make their neighbors into second-class citizens.”
Sgro added, “The North Carolina we know believes in respecting the law, doing your job, and treating people fairly, and no cynical lawsuit brought by a few public officials will change that.”
The lawsuit comes amid attempts by the Republican leaders in the General Assembly to pass legislation exempting registers of deeds and magistrates from performing marriages if doing so would violate sincerely held religious beliefs.
Same-gender marriages were legalized in North Carolina in October.