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Equality NC Condemns Former Magistrates Lawsuit

RALEIGH, N.C. (April 9, 2015) -- Equality NC, North Carolina’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, today condemned a lawsuit filed this week by two former North Carolina magistrates who resigned from their duties. The men, Gilbert Breedlove and Thomas Holland, are suing court officials in an effort to be reinstated to their positions and be allowed to opt out of their responsibility to marry same-sex couples.

After two federal judges struck down North Carolina's constitutional prohibition against gay marriage last fall, John Smith, then-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.

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 reinstatement of both men to their positions as magistrates in Graham County.

Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, shot back, calling the lawsuit a futile attempt by a few magistrates to "pick and choose" which laws they follow.

"This week, two North Carolina public officials have asked a court to provide them with legal solution to their desire to pick and choose the laws they follow," said Sgro. "It goes without saying that the First Amendment already protects their religious freedom. No one can tell any North Carolina magistrate or any other public official what they can or cannot believe. 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 as the General Assembly considers Senate Bill 2, filed by Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) which passed through the Senate in February. The legislation would permit any magistrate or register of deeds office employee to recuse himself or herself from performing any marriage that violated a "sincerely held religious objection." The bill has yet to be be debated in the House.

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