Two former magistrates in North Carolina, who resigned after being required to conduct same-sex marriages, have filed a lawsuit arguing they should not be forced to violate their religious beliefs in order to be judges.
Last year North Carolina’s Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) announced: “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,” stated the Director of the AOC, “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.”
Judge Gilbert Breedlove, 57, who had been a magistrate for nearly 24 years, said he had no other choice but to resign.
“We were directed we had to perform the marriages, and that was just something I couldn’t do because of my religious beliefs”, he said at the time.
Thomas Holland, who had also served as a magistrate for almost 24 years, faced similar difficulty.
Last week the two men filed papers suing the AOC claiming their religious rights were violated because no attempts were made to accommodate their religious beliefs when implementing the new law.
The legal papers state: “Defendants forced Plaintiffs to choose between taking an act that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs or being criminally prosecuted”.
Holland and Breedlove say they resigned “under duress” but are now seeking reinstatement and compensation for their losses.
This case comes in a long line of recent challenges to religious freedoms in the workplace.
Earlier this year a Christian florist in the US who was sued for declining to arrange flowers for a same-sex wedding, lost her case and was ordered to pay $1,000 fine, alongside penalties and fees.
In Indiana a pizzeria was forced to close temporarily because one of its owners said they would be unwilling to cater for a same-sex wedding.
In the UK, Ashers Baking Co. is awaiting a judgment after being taken to court by Northern Ireland’s Equality Commission for refusing to bake a pro-gay marriage campaign cake.
In 2011 Adrian Smith was demoted from his position as a housing manager for Trafford Housing Trust, and had his salary cut by 40 per cent, after posting on his personal Facebook page that gay weddings in churches would be “an equality too far”.
A judge later ruled that bosses at the housing trust were wrong to demote Mr Smith and ruled that the Trust had breached the terms of his contract.
And a Christian registrar in England lost her job following the introduction of civil partnerships in 2006 after being refused reasonable accommodation of her religious objection to conducting the ceremonies.