One of at least six who quit rather than violate their consciences
As a civil magistrate in North Carolina, Gilbert Breedlove knew he would soon be asked to conduct a same-sex wedding ceremony.
When a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s same-sex "marriage" ban on Oct. 10, the state trial court system notified magistrates that they were legally obligated to perform same-sex weddings.
"We didn’t think it would happen that fast," said Breedlove, a magistrate for almost 23 years who is also an ordained Baptist pastor. Breedlove said he was left with only one option.
"I had no choice but to resign. I couldn’t in good conscience (officiate at a same-sex wedding) and still hold my head up as a pastor and preacher of the Word of God," Breedlove, 57, told Aleteia.
Breedlove is one of at least six judges in North Carolina who have resigned because they do not want to violate their Christian beliefs and officiate at same-sex weddings. Several of them have told various media outlets that they were willing to suffer financial losses rather than go against their consciences. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, North Carolina magistrates earn more than $50,000 a year.
"I’m a full-time pastor with a part-time salary," Breedlove said.
During a recent phone interview with Aleteia, Breedlove, who pastors a Baptist church near a Cherokee Indian reservation, discussed his decision to resign his post in greater detail.
Were you concerned about the impact to your finances?
Obviously, there was some financial loss by doing so. I lost 20 percent of my retirement, but that really wasn’t part of my consideration. The main part was standing up for what the Word of God says.
Did you anticipate that you and other magistrates would be in a position where you would have to officiate at same-sex weddings?
It did concern me. When I saw that the same-sex marriage case went up to the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals, about a month before the decision, I told the clerk that there was the possibility that we’d have to (perform same-sex weddings). I told the clerk that I couldn’t do that in good conscience, and she understood my position. But we didn’t think (the decision) would come that fast.
The following Monday after the Fourth Circuit rendered their opinion, Judge John Smith [the director of the North Carolina Court System] issued a memo to all the magistrates throughout the state saying that we had to conduct same-sex weddings, and we were told that refusing to do so would lead to suspension or criminal action. That is when I decided to go ahead and turn in my resignation.
Why did you decide that resigning was the only option?
I couldn’t in good conscience (perform a same-sex wedding) if they were going to require me to do that. In that case, I couldn’t in good conscience be able to carry out my duties as a magistrate, so I went ahead and resigned.
For me there was no other option. For other people who didn’t think twice about it, their decision might have been based on their finances, but my decision was not based on finances. My decision was based on my faith.
Do you think any more judges will follow your example step down?
I think that those were going to resign already did. The rest of them see it as just an everyday part of the job and they don’t have any qualm with it. I know there were a few who were looking at a legal challenge, and they were looking to hire a law firm that specializes in religious freedom when they inevitably got fired for refusing to officiate at a same-sex wedding ceremony. Unfortunately, I don’t have that luxury.
In your estimation, what is the likelihood that at some point, you would have had to officiate at a same-sex wedding?
Well, when I was working, I’d work a 56-hour shift. Half of that shift was in the office, and that is when people would come during normal business hours to get married. I’d say I’ve done 4,000 to 5,000 marriages over the years… We did a lot of them. I couldn’t see anywhere around it or avoiding the same-sex marriage issue, so rather than try to hide behind the shadows of the law, I figured if I can’t do my duty, I’m going to leave.
How long had you had been a magistrate? How will this affect your retirement?
I became a magistrate in December 1990. On Dec. 1, it would have been 24 years for me. Resigning now cuts my retirement by 20 percent. I needed four years to max out my pension. I’ve applied for retirement, and I qualify for 75 percent, so I’m just going to trust in the Lord and see where He leads"
When did you become a Baptist minister? Was it a calling you had sensed for a long time?
I’ve been an ordained pastor for 17 years. I was a deacon before that. I had a career in the Marine Corps, where I was a staff sergeant. I got out in 1984 with a medical discharge. I came back home and started working with the church. I was then ordained a deacon, which I was for five years until I surrendered to the call to preach.
As a Baptist minister who has studied the Word of God, what teachings on marriage informed your decision to resign as a magistrate?
We always quote Genesis 1:27, where God made mankind male and female in His own image. Also in Genesis, we see where God brought Eve to Adam, and gave instructions that for this reason shall a man leave his father and mother, and that he and his wife shall became one flesh…There is also something like 27 verses in the New Testament about fornication, and fornication is defined as any type of illicit sexual behavior other than that of the marriage bed, which is that of a man and a woman.
Do you expect pressure to continue growing on Christians who oppose same-sex marriage and other elements in the culture?
I expect the pressure will come full circle. Obviously, the next challenge is they’re going to work on attacking our freedoms of speech, and our right to preach against sin, including homosexuality. I believe that’s the next step in America now that they have gay marriage. They will push for special protections under the law and get new hate laws passed.
What do you think you will do next? Are you concerned about what the future may hold?
I’m trusting in the Lord and I know that He will take care of us.
Brian Fraga is a daily newspaper reporter who writes from Fall River, Massachusetts