@NCCapitol

No immediate change to NC marriage law

Posted October 6, 2014 10:04 a.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2014 9:04 a.m. EDT

— When the U.S. Supreme Court decided Monday not to take up appeals from five states seeking to prohibit same-sex marriage, it effectively changed marriage laws in 11 states, including North Carolina. It is a move that could end up with same-sex marriage being legal in 30 of the 50 United States.

That change could take effect immediately – in Colorado Attorney General John Suthers ordered all 64 county clerks to begin issuing same-sex marriage licenses – or it could take some time.

North Carolina amendment change on hold

North Carolina, which is governed by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, could see its constitutional definition of marriage overturned in as little as 10 days.

The Fourth Circuit considered and overturned Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage in July, and on Monday it reiterated that ruling. The Virginia case was one of those the Supreme Court left alone, which means the Fourth Circuit's ruling stands.

In North Carolina, a federal judge must first lift a stay put in place after that ruling, according to Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina. The judge then would have to issue a written order declaring unconstitutional the amendment North Carolina voters passed in 2012 defining marriage in the state as being between one man and one woman, Brook said.

Federal Judge William Osteen, Jr., in Greensboro, said he wouldn't lift the stay until all parties in the state cases can file status reports. He has asked for that information within 10 days.

In his order, Osteen wrote that the Fourth Circuit mandate looks like it will require him to overturn the amendment.

North Carolina Republican lawmakers House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger said Monday afternoon that they are prepared to go back to court to defend the state marriage amendment, but that could send the case back to the Fourth Circuit.

“The people of North Carolina have spoken, and while the Supreme Court has not issued a definitive ruling on the issue of traditional marriage, we are hopeful they will soon,” said Tillis and Berger. “Until then, we will vigorously defend the values of our state and the will of more than 60 percent of North Carolina voters who made it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman.”

Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has said that he would no longer defend North Carolina’s law, and after Monday's decision, the ACLU pressed for change.

"The Supreme Court’s decision means that the freedom to marry for same-sex couples must be recognized here in North Carolina without delay," Brook said in a statement. "Every day that gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina are denied the ability to marry the person they love places their families and children in legal and financial jeopardy. The time has come to end this unfair treatment once and for all and to let our American values of freedom and equality apply to all couples."

Supreme Court demurral sparks national clamor

The justices of the Supreme Court did not comment in rejecting appeals from Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. No other state cases were currently pending with the high court, but the justices stopped short of resolving for now the question of same-sex marriage nationwide.

In Virginia, 30-year-old Lindsey Oliver and 42-year-old Nicole Pries received the first same-sex marriage license issued from the Richmond Circuit Court Clerk's office shortly after 1 p.m. Upon leaving the courthouse, they were married by gay-rights advocate The Rev. Robin Gorsline. The couple said Monday also was the anniversary of a commitment ceremony they held on a North Carolina beach three years ago.

States like Oklahoma, Utah and Indiana also reported issuing marriage licenses Monday to same-sex couples.

Meanwhile, Wake County Register of Deeds Laura Riddick called on the state Department of Health and Human Services to release a gender-neutral marriage license to counties statewide so that software could be updated and licenses can be issued to same-sex couples as soon as the courts allow gay marriage in North Carolina.

Families look for final word

Shawn Long, who with his partner Craig Johnson was among the first to challenge North Carolina's same-sex-marriage ban, was hopeful Monday that his long road was nearing an end.

"The complete driving force is our son, Isaiah," he said. Under current law, only one of the men could adopt Isaiah. Johnson is Isaiah's father and Long has no parental rights.

"Our country is based upon the idea of freedom and equality, and this is what this is all about," Long said.

The ACLU's Brook said he believes the wait for legal status is almost over for Long and Johnson. "We are very quickly approaching the end of the road," he said.

Marriage ban backers vow to fight on

Groups who supported North Carolina's definition of marriage as between one man and one woman joined other groups nationwide who pledged to continue to push for a ban on same-sex marriage.

"We continue to believe that the people of each individual state have the right to recognize marriage as the union of a man and a woman by popular vote," Tami Fitzgerald, executive director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, which pushed for the state's amendment.

"It is outrageous that courts believe they can overturn the Biblical meaning of marriage, the will of the people and the definition that marriage has had throughout history in every culture."

John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, pointed to the nuances in the many state cases in warning that the Supreme Court's action not be interpreted too broadly.

"As the U.S. Supreme Court directed in its (federal Defense of Marriage Act) decision last year, the individual states should retain their right to define marriage, and North Carolina defines marriage as only the union of one man and one woman in state statute and in its state constitution," Rustin said.

Political leaders in West Virginia and South Carolina also balked at the change, pointing to specifics in their states and asking again that the issue be decided by the Supreme Court.

NC could soon recognize marriages legal elsewhere

Couples who live in North Carolina but were married elsewhere could soon see a change in their legal status as well.

Experts expect that as state laws change there will be a process for those, like Keith Lunday and Jason Renzaglia, who traveled to get married to have their unions recognized.

"We were born and raised here. We met and fell in love at North Carolina State, so it would be nice to have a marriage license from North Carolina," Lunday said.