Bragg same-sex couples part of effort to overturn gay marriage ban
Posted April 18
Raleigh, N.C. — Two families from Fort Bragg have moved front and center in a legal battle to throw out North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage.
Equality North Carolina and a similar group in South Carolina filed a brief with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that state laws against gay marriage hurt military families.
The appellate court in Richmond, Va., is scheduled next month to hear a challenge to a federal judge's ruling overturning Virginia's law barring same-sex marriages. The 4th U.S. Circuit includes North Carolina, so the court's ruling – likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court by whichever side loses – could affect North Carolina's laws.
"As a military family, we have had a lot of headaches living in North Carolina," Ashley Broadway-Mack said Friday.
She married Lt. Col. Heather Mack, who is based at Fort Bragg, in Washington, D.C., and the couple has two children. Although the Army recognizes their marriage, North Carolina doesn't.
"I’m basically considered a roommate to my spouse,” Broadway-Mack said. “So, we don’t have any legal protections in North Carolina as a married couple.”
For example, state law allows only one person in a same-sex couple to adopt children.
"In the eyes of the state of North Carolina, I have no legal right to adopt them," Broadway-Mack said, noting that she fears what will happen if her spouse is killed in action.
Mack is on deployment.
"These are folks who are the most deserving of the protections – the common-sense protections – that marriage offers them on post but not off post," said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina.
Sgro said it's important for the appeals court to hear stories of service members who must confront discrimination on the home-front.
Staff Sgt. Tracy Johnson of Raeford also is highlighted in the legal brief. Her spouse, Donna, was killed in Afghanistan, but she cannot collect survivor benefits because, under federal law, the state where the survivor lives has to define eligible family members.
"It has always been a precedent in our country that states get to set, to determine their own domestic-policy issues," said Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition.
Fitzgerald helped lead the campaign for the 2012 constitutional amendment defining marriage in North Carolina.
"Just because some gay military couples – and there are very few – want to get military veterans benefits is no reason to overturn North Carolina's marriage amendment," she said.
North Carolina has two challenges to its same-sex marriage ban pending before federal judges.
One challenges the state's law on second-parent adoptions – the issue that Broadway-Mack faces – while the other, which was filed last week, seeks an expedited decision on the ban for three same-sex couples who face health concerns. The Attorney General's Office has asked for a delay in the latter case because the 4th U.S. Circuit's ruling could affect it.