@NCCapitol

GOP legislative leaders ask to intervene in NC gay marriage cases

Posted October 9, 2014 12:58 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2014 10:24 p.m. EDT

— As same-sex couples in North Carolina await federal court rulings they hope will allow them to get married, Republican legislative leaders Thursday afternoon made a last-minute effort to block or delay the nuptials.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis filed a motion to intervene in the matter, a move that Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver said is "to defend the will of more than 60 percent of North Carolina voters who cast ballots defining marriage as between one man and one woman in our state constitution."

Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. set a noon Friday deadline for them to lay out their legal arguments in the case, rejecting their request to delay any decision in the matter until at least Oct. 17.

"These cases have been pending for a lengthy period of time," Osteen said, adding that lawmakers haven't offered any legal argument in favor of the gay marriage ban that the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals hasn't already set aside when it overturned a similar ban in Virginia this summer.

After the 4th Circuit ruling, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said he would no longer defend the state's 2-year-old amendment prohibiting gay marriage.

State lawmakers voted last year to give legislative leaders legal standing equal to that of the state attorney general to fight for North Carolina laws in court.

John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage – a group that lobbies against same-sex marriage – has been retained by Tillis and Berger as primary counsel, along with local counsel Bob Potter and the public interest law firm ActRight Legal Foundation, to represent North Carolina.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina criticized the lawmakers' motion, calling it a waste of taxpayer money. Equality North Carolina called it "both reprehensible and inconsequential."

"Love has won, and the time to play politics with Tar Heel families is done," the LGBT advocacy group said in a statement.

Eastman, Carver said, has agreed to provide the first $10,000 of service pro bono and has reduced his hourly rate by more than a third. He will be paid $400 per hour.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, wouldn't say Thursday whether he supports lawmakers' effort, saying only that he respects the judicial process.

"It's my job to follow the laws – not only the constitution of North Carolina but the Constitution of the United States of America – and I'll do just that," McCrory said.

Waiting for marriage

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal of the Virginia case, as well as cases in four other states. Two days later, Osteen lifted stays in lawsuits challenging North Carolina's marriage ban.

That triggered a flurry of legal filings across the country, including in North Carolina, where the prospect that same-sex marriage could be imminent sparked excitement among couples who have waited for years to either get married or have their marriages from other states legally recognized.

At the Register of Deeds Office inside the Wake County Justice Center on Thursday, clerks waited to begin issuing gender-neutral marriage licenses, and extra magistrates were on standby to begin marrying gay and lesbian couples.

Among them were Chad Biggs, a Wake County sheriff's deputy, and his partner of eight years, Chris Creech, a sworn sheriff's deputy working in information technology.

"I think this is going to be one of those moments when our children look at this 20 years down the road and ask, 'Two people couldn't get married?'" said Biggs, who works as a bailiff.

Outside the Justice Center, the Rev. John Saxon, of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, waited to officiate some of the first marriages.

"My plan is for anyone who would like to get married right here today – to celebrate a committed relationship, regardless of gender – (to do so)," Saxon said. "I want to be here for them."

How long Biggs, Creech and Saxon will wait is now the question on everyone's minds.

"I would be surprised, at this point, if anything stops it," Creech said. "We've come this far, so we can deal with a little more delay, if we have to."