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Judge Rules State Cannot Target Magistrates for Beliefs on Marriage

Magistrate Gayle Myrick won her landmark case against the state of North Carolina. (YouTube )

A landmark federal ruling, finalized recently, says that the State of North Carolina violated civil rights laws when it forced a magistrate to resign because of her beliefs about marriage.

The ruling in Myrick v. EEOC shows that faith and LGBT rights don't have to be at odds with each other. Reasonable solutions can be found to protect the dignity of each person. This case also resulted in a significant settlement agreement, in which the State agreed to pay the magistrate her salary and retirements benefits that were unjustly taken away. You can watch her story here.

Gayle Myrick was a highly qualified and well-respected magistrate in North Carolina for many years who was forced to resign because of her religious beliefs. When same-sex marriage became legal, she didn't want to stop any couple from getting married, but she also knew that her religious beliefs prevented her from performing a same-sex wedding ceremony.

Since performing weddings was a small part of her work, Gayle's immediate supervisor proposed a solution: shift Gayle's schedule by a couple hours so she wasn't working when marriage ceremonies were performed. However, the state government rejected this reasonable solution and forced Gayle to resign.

"I have always wanted to find a way to protect everyone's dignity," says Myrick, the magistrate at the center of the case. "The solution in my case would allow any couple to get lawfully married without facing rejection or delay, and magistrates with religious beliefs like me could step aside and still keep our jobs."

Other magistrates routinely shifted their schedules for a variety of reasons—from simple things like fishing trips to substantial issues like night classes or drug rehab. If Myrick had asked to shift her schedule for any other reason, she would have been allowed to keep her job. But because her request was motivated by her religious beliefs, she was forced to resign just two months before her retirement benefits vested.

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge said this was discrimination under the civil rights laws. North Carolina was "obligated to provide an accommodation to Magistrate Myrick," the ruling said. The state later acknowledged it treated Gayle unfairly, and the settlement agreement makes Gayle whole by paying her the salary and retirement benefits that were taken away.

The state also passed a law making sure no magistrates would be targeted for their religious beliefs and no one would be denied a prompt marriage. The judge's ruling comes ahead of the Supreme Court decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. CCRC, a case that also addresses issues related to LGBT rights and religious liberty.

"Faith and sexual orientation are deeply important to the identity of many people, and this case shows that these two things don't have to be at odds with each other," says Stephanie Barclay, counsel at Becket, the non-profit religious liberty law firm that represented Gayle. "Our civil rights laws help us create a diverse society where people can live, work, and break bread together despite our differences."

Myrick filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) under the Government Employee Rights Act—a federal civil rights law that protects the rights of government employees. Gayle was represented in this proceeding by Becket together with Ellis Boyle of Knott & Boyle, PLLC.

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