Gay Marriage, Religious Liberty & the Rule of Law

What’s a public official (elected or appointed) to do if he or she disagrees with a law? As one former elected official might have said, “It depends.” In North Carolina, at least six magistrates have decided to resign rather than perform gay marriage ceremonies that would conflict with their faith:

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. (“Gay marriage, ‘faith spur judges to resign”)

After a Federal Appeals Court legalized gay marriage in the state, these six magistrates had a choice to make — either perform gay marriages and, in the process violate their faith, OR refuse to obey what they believe is an immoral law and risk punishment, including removal from the bench and possible criminal charges:

“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.”

However, rather than choosing between following their faith or following the law, they have chosen to “voluntarily” resign from office.  While a First Amendment case could be made which would allow judges to perform their duties without violating their religious liberty, these magistrates decided that the best course of action for them (despite the financial hardships on some) was to walk away from this particular fight.

As a corollary, if elected officials in the legislative, executive, or judicial branches of our government at the local, state, or national levels cannot, in good conscience, abide by laws with which they personally disagree, they should either step aside or try to change the law. After all, they are not forced to serve, but do so voluntarily as public servants.  However, they should not, as The People’s Court would caution, “take the law in their own hands” and ignore the rule of law in a lawless manner. (See President Obama and Immigration by Executive Order for an example of the type of action that Judge Wapner would not approve.)

As Christians living in an increasingly post-Christian, anti-god culture, our laws will, sooner or later, be administered in such a way that opting out of the fight will no longer be a viable option.  For churches and other religious groups who hold to a Biblical ethic regarding marriage and sexuality, there will come a day when avoiding civil and/or criminal penalties for exercising our First Amendment rights will not be tolerated by the tolerant left.

In fact, the day is fast approaching when Christians in America will no longer enjoy the freedoms to which we have long been accustomed. The open rejection and derision of the Gospel message will only increase. Any who continue to preach and teach that homosexual practice and gay marriage is a sin will find no “third way.” Churches that continue to proclaim that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” — the only way of salvation and heaven — will face persecution for their faith (although that is not yet happening in the United States).

“While that should cause us to grieve for our nation, we should not be surprised. After all, Jesus predicted that this would happen.  And, His prediction was made over 2,000 years ago in Israel:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12, ESV)

The six magistrates in North Carolina may have lost their jobs, but they are blessed, nonetheless. That may not be the way that most Christians would want to be blessed by God, but when the God of the Universe declares that you are blessed — even when others revile you and say all kinds of nasty things against you and your faith — then think of it this way: “BLESSED, MAKARIOS, WOOHOOH!” You will never see God’s blessings the same once you do.

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