North Carolina is on the verge of making national headlines again - for all the wrong reasons.
Tthe North Carolina legislature is considering a bill that would allow state employees, including magistrate judges such as me, to pick and choose which laws they want to follow and which North Carolinians they want to serve.
SB 2 would allow public employees to refuse to perform any marriages, but the target is clearly same-sex couples, and the consequences of this bill could go much further.
Disguised as a bill to protect "religious freedom," the proposal would instead allow public officials such as magistrates to disregard their oaths of office, which require them to "administer justice without favoritism" and carry out their duties in accordance with the law and the Constitution.
I understand that some magistrates have felt deep concern about whether they should marry same-sex couples based on their sincere religious convictions. Some have even gone so far as to resign.
But any magistrate who resigns over "religious objections" to performing same-sex marriages is confusing a magistrate's responsibility to conduct civil marriage ceremonies with a member of the clergy's ability to sanctify a marriage.
Magistrates don't sanctify marriages, and never have. We perform civil ceremonies, and we shouldn't have the ability to deny that service to anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, race or religion.
The U.S. Constitution protects the free exercise of religion and ensures that no clergy member would ever be forced to sanctify a marriage with which they disagree. Under the law, no church can be compelled to perform a marriage that falls outside their faith tradition.
But government is different. Public officials should treat everyone equally under the law. Our oath demands it.
While proponents of this legislation are trying to target same-sex marriage, the consequences of the proposed religious exemption could go much further and would allow public employees to turn away all people, regardless of their faiths or ethnic backgrounds.
Not so much time has passed since it was illegal for a white person and black person to marry each other. Once this legal impediment was removed, would it have been acceptable for magistrates to refuse to perform a civil wedding ceremony for a mixed-race couple, based on "personal beliefs"? Clearly not.
Government offices should be open to everyone on the same terms, including to people who are gay or lesbian. Nobody should be denied access to public services simply because of who they are or who they love.
I understand that the changes in the law around marriage have come to North Carolina quickly and that not all of us were prepared. But that's no excuse for public officials. When our laws are updated or changed, we have a duty and a responsibility to administer those laws fairly.
Right now, people look to North Carolina as a place they want to live, start a business and raise a family. But if a handful of politicians keep hanging up the "unwelcome" sign for their own political gain, that could change.
It's my hope that lawmakers will reject this unnecessary and discriminatory bill and ensure that North Carolina's government enforces the law equally and fairly for all our residents.
Judge Perry Dror was a magistrate for the 28th Judicial District in Asheville.