CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — When Gayle Myrick received a memo from the North Carolina state government threatening criminal prosecution unless she performed gay wedding ceremonies, she knew she had to resign her job as a magistrate — even though resignation left her unemployed and without retirement benefits at age 64.
“When you’re grounded in your faith and you know — especially at my age — what you believe and whom you believe, decisions come rather quickly,” Myrick, a former magistrate in Union County near Charlotte, told Baptist Press.
Myrick is one of at least six magistrates in North Carolina who have opted to resign rather than marry homosexual couples following a federal judge’s ruling that the state’s gay marriage ban is unconstitutional. For at least two of the magistrates — both of whom have ties to Southern Baptist churches — the decision to resign has brought financial hardship. But they said obeying God required leaving their jobs.
“Why can we have a law that’s going to prevent any sect of people from serving in the government?” Myrick said of North Carolina’s requirement that state officials perform gay weddings.
Magistrates in North Carolina are judicial officers in each county employed by the state to adjudicate minor criminal and civil matters like issuing warrants, setting bail, accepting guilty pleas and performing marriage ceremonies. The state’s 670 magistrates are appointed by Superior Court judges.
On Oct. 14, all North Carolina magistrates received a memo from Pamela Weaver Best of the Administrative Office of the Courts stating that because a federal court legalized homosexual marriage in the state, magistrates were required to perform gay weddings. Those who refused could face criminal prosecution for committing a class 1 misdemeanor, the memo said, which is punishable by up to 120 days in jail.
“If a magistrate refuses to discharge the duties of his or her office, including a refusal to perform a marriage of a same-sex couple, that refusal is grounds for suspension or removal from office, as well as, potential criminal charges,” the memo said.
In response to the memo Myrick, who attends First Baptist Church in Indian Trail, N.C., resigned three months before she would have become eligible to receive retirement benefits from the state. She also forfeited her $36,000 salary and is now unemployed two weeks before her 65th birthday.
“I haven’t had any prospects of a job,” Myrick said. “I’m still hoping I’ll be able to get something because I do need to work.”
In addition to needing the income, Myrick said she viewed her job as an opportunity to communicate love and hope to people in difficult circumstances. But had she known performing gay weddings would become one of her legal duties, she said she “would not have taken the oath” of office.
In Gaston County, also in the Charlotte area, former magistrate William Stevenson shares Myrick’s objection to performing gay marriage ceremonies. He shares her experience of financial hardship as well.
A licensed attorney, Stevenson, 43, gave up a $47,550 salary when he resigned as a magistrate rather than perform gay weddings. To support his two children, he has accepted a temporary job doing administrative work for Operation Christmas Child while he searches for long-term employment.
“I’m going on faith,” Stevenson told BP. “This is all a God thing. I could not do this without the Lord. He has been faithful to bless me financially somewhat since this has happened.”
A member of South Point Baptist Church in Belmont, N.C., and a supply preacher in local churches, Stevenson said performing same-sex weddings would violate God’s Word.
Marriage “is a fundamental thing the Lord has set up” in Genesis, Stevenson said. “Marriage is to be between a man and a woman, and one man and one woman. And of course that’s reiterated by the Lord Jesus.”
Had Stevenson remained on the job as a magistrate but refused to perform gay weddings, he could have been disbarred as an attorney and sued under federal law in addition to facing criminal charges. He compared the plight of Christian magistrates in North Carolina with that of Peter and John in Acts 4, where they had to decide between obeying the Jewish authorities and honoring Jesus.
“I believe in the rule of law,” Stevenson said. “I believe that the Lord has set up the government over us. But at the same time, there comes a point where one has to choose between following the commands of the Lord and following the commands of the government.”
Stevenson worries about America’s eroding moral standards and urges his fellow citizens to repent of their sins before the nation incurs God’s judgment. He also worries about magistrates who object to gay marriage but feel financially unable to leave their jobs.
“I know there are a lot of magistrates who are struggling deeply about this, who don’t agree with it but are still on the job,” Stevenson said. “I don’t condemn them at all. I pray for them.”
The other four magistrates to resign are John Kallam Jr. in Rockingham County, Gilbert Breedlove in Swain County, Tommy Holland in Graham County and Jeff Powell in Jackson County.
State Senator Phil Berger and other state Senate Republicans have asked the Administrative Office of the Courts to honor the religious freedom of officials who refuse to participate in gay marriage ceremonies because of their belief systems, the Charlotte News and Observer reported. Berger said he will file a bill to protect state officials who refuse to issue marriage licenses to or marry gay couples based on religious objections.