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.

See our full archive of marriage equality related news and updates.

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

4 replies on “N.C. magistrates sue for right to discriminate against LGBT couples”

  1. If you can’t perform your duties as a magistrate do to your religious beliefs then you should resign. Your beliefs are irrelevant.

    See how many employers in the private sector would support such a ludicrous excuse for not doing your job!

  2. Separation of Church and State – this is such a prime example, how religion beliefs where pushed onto a people that fled and formed the United States – Church/Religion does not belong in the laws. And if you believe XYZ that is the law, then you cannot perform that function, unless you release your personal belief and rule to the right side of the constitution. You are a single person, where there may be 10’s of you affected, you cannot decide law based on your religious beliefs. Go pray in your own home for the bigotry of your understanding of god – but do perform your job.

  3. These magistrates took an oath to uphold the law not force their beliefs on the public. Fire them or let them resign if they don’t like their job.

  4. Bless their misguided and deluded hearts, if you want to work for the state then obey the law. No exceptions.

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