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Magistrates sue over requirement to marry same-sex couples

Posted February 11, 2015

A Wake County magistrate marries a same-sex couple after a federal court ruling overturned North Carolina's constitutional prohibition against gay marriage.
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— A former Moore County magistrate and a second magistrate who fears losing her job are suing court officials, claiming that being forced to preside over same-sex marriages violates their religious freedoms.

After two federal judges struck down North Carolina's constitutional prohibition against gay marriage last fall, John Smith, director of the state Administrative Office of the Courts, said county magistrates were required to marry any same-sex couple that had a valid marriage license and couldn't opt out of one of their official duties simply because they dislike the concept of gay marriage.

Charlie Smoak, who served as a magistrate in Moore County for 10 years, said he made his position clear to superiors that he couldn't reconcile same-sex marriage with his Christian beliefs and didn't want to handle any such ceremonies, according to the lawsuit. He wasn't appointed for another two-year term at the end of 2014, and because no one gave him a reason for the move, he claims in the suit that it must be connected to his stance on gay marriage.

Smoak and another magistrate listed in the lawsuit as "Jane Doe" – she fears she could lose her job if her position on the issue becomes public – allege that the AOC order violates their rights under North Carolina's constitution to religious liberty, free speech, due process and equal protection.

"Defendants' directive that Plaintiffs must solemnize same-sex relationships as 'marriages' or face suspension, termination, fines and/or criminal prosecution, with no exception or accommodation for Plaintiffs' sincerely held belief, compels Plaintiffs to affirm a belief that is contrary to Plaintiffs' fundamental worldview and to the worldview upon which the state and country were founded," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Wake County, seeks a court order declaring Smith's order unconstitutional and preventing it from being enforced, as well as an order that Moore County Clerk of Superior Court Susan Hicks reinstate Smoak as a county magistrate.

Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, has filed a bill in the General Assembly that would permit any magistrate or register of deeds employee to recuse himself or herself from performing any marriage for a period of six months for "sincerely held religious objection" without fear of repercussion. The bill hasn't yet been debated by any legislative committee.

26 Comments

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  • Jack Jones Feb 12, 2015
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    The magistrate is a government position, and performing civil marriages is a duty defined in that position.

  • Jack Jones Feb 12, 2015
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    Mr Smoak's resignation was a dignified and proper solution to his personal conflict performing civil marriages. It's unfortunate he's been persuaded to pursue this lawsuit. I'm sure Tillis & Berger's reelection fundraising emails are loaded and ready to be sent.

  • Mark Farmer Feb 12, 2015
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    so they can only do 50% of there job, and since it is legal in NC they are breaking the law by not marrying them.

    If I told my company I could only do 50% of my job, they would fire me too.

  • Sammy Macloud Feb 12, 2015
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    Can't or won't do the job? QUIT and get another you WILL do.

    Hope they lose the suit and are required to pay the cost of this

  • Jay FitzGerald Feb 11, 2015
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  • Anthony Swaringen Feb 11, 2015
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    Hear, hear to many of the other posters who have a grasp of the situation. Public servants are not in place to carry out their own values, but those of the public (i.e., the State of NC). For those who are not convinced, imagine if teachers, police officers, and other public servants were allowed to pick and choose which laws and policies they upheld based on their personal beliefs. Get with it, or get a new job!

  • Carol Smith Feb 11, 2015
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    Tillis and Berger are the problem in our state. They bully, hate and discriminate.

  • Carol Smith Feb 11, 2015
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    So called religious people use religion to hate?

  • Sammy Macloud Feb 11, 2015
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    These magistrates are perfectly capable of QUITTING AND GETTING ANOTHER JOB! If they can't/won't do the job they have then they need to give it up. No way would I have been able to pick/choose the parts of my job I wanted to do....I wouldn't have had that job.....they shouldn't either.

  • Tommie Chavis Feb 11, 2015
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    THANK YOU!!!! I have very much respect for you.

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