BRYSON CITY, N.C. — A Swain County judge resigned Monday so he would not have to perform same-sex marriages.
Magistrate Judge Gilbert Breedlove, 57, who also is an ordained minister, has been a magistrate for nearly 24 years.
“It was my only option,” Breedlove said. “We were directed we had to perform the marriages, and that was just something I couldn’t do because of my religious beliefs.”
North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban was struck down Oct. 10. The judgment followed a Supreme Court announcement that it would not hear the case of a 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in July that struck down Virginia’s gay marriage ban. The 4th Circuit has jurisdiction over North Carolina.
“I was Christian when I started,” Breedlove said. “Then, the law didn’t require me to perform something that was against my religious belief. Now that law has changed its requirements.”
Reports have come from across North Carolina of magistrates stepping down because of their personal objections to same-sex marriage, but it’s important to remember that more than 600 licenses have been issued in more than 60 counties, said Executive Director Chris Sgro of Equality North Carolina, a statewide lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender advocacy organization.
In the broader picture, things are going smoothly, he said.
“Certainly, our hope is not that anybody feels like they need to resign from their position,” Sgrosaid.”Our hope is that people across North Carolina will support same-sex marriage and do their jobs and conduct same-sex marriages the same as they would for opposite-sex couples.”
Bryson City, tucked between the Cherokee Indian reservation and national forest land in western North Carolina about 65 miles from Asheville, is a conservative, primarily Christian community, said Breedlove, who mentioned that his friends and family are supportive of his decision.
Although employed as a part-time pastor at his church, Breedlove’s main source of income came from his position as a magistrate, he said. But the former staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps is not worried about the pay cut.
“That’s one of things about being a Christian,” said Breedlove, who would not identify his church by name, saying he didn’t want it to get negative attention in response to his personal decision. “You are able to serve the Lord, and the Lord will provide.”
Breedlove, who also served as a deputy sheriff before becoming a magistrate, spent several years translating the Bible into the Choctaw Indian language. His wife was raised on a Cherokee Indian reservation.
“The whole Bible from front to end states that a marriage is between a man and a wife,” he said. “Any other type of sexual activity other than that is what is defined as fornication.”
Breedlove believes that other magistrates from nearby counties also will be resigning through none of the names he provided could be confirmed.
The Graham County Clerk’s office reports that one magistrate, whom Breedlove said was leaving for similar reasons, retired.
“This is part of an effort to hype up a few small cases,” said Sgro, reiterating that the issue is about the duties of a state employee, not about individual freedoms or religion.
Equality North Carolina issued a news release Friday calling memos sent out by the N.C. Values Coalition and the Alliance Defending Freedom misleading. The memos encouraged state officials with “sincere religious or moral beliefs” to refrain from issuing marriage licenses.
“If you hold a job or any position that serves the public or the state, then you have to carry out the duties of that job,” Sgro said. “Hundreds and hundreds of people are being married by employees of the state across North Carolina with no problem.”