Local News

Judge takes step towards gay marriage in NC

Posted October 8, 2014 5:08 p.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2014 11:34 p.m. EDT

— A federal judge in North Carolina has lifted stays in two cases challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriages, a possible sign he's preparing to strike down the prohibition as unconstitutional.

Chief U.S. District Judge William Osteen Jr. issued an order Wednesday lifting his earlier stays and dismissing all motions in the cases. The move came after the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper filed documents with the court essentially dropping all further defense of the 2012 ban approved by voters.

Osteen had issued the stays in July, after Virginia's same-sex marriage ban was struck down by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which has jurisdiction over North Carolina. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal of the Virginia case.

Some legislative leaders have said they will fight to keep the gay marriage ban in place despite Monday's decision. They could ask the Supreme Court for an emergency stay. Justice Anthony Kennedy granted a temporary emergency stay to Idaho on Wednesday.

Shawn Long and his partner, Craig Johnson, were the first same-sex couple in North Carolina to file a lawsuit challenging the state's ban on gay marriage. They now hope to be among the first to get married in the state.

"That's the whole reason we're doing this. This is our home. We want to be married here," Long said.

"I'm feeling fairly giddy," Johnson said of the prospect of finally marrying Long. "I don't usually feel giddy. That's a different experience for me. It's exciting. It's going to feel like, wow!"

They said the driving force behind their fight is their 12-year-old son, Isaiah, and the state recognizing both of them as his legal parents and them as a couple.

"(We like) the idea that, in the eyes of society and the law, we'll be a family, the two of us and our son a legal family," Long said.

Some couples don't want to wait to see what the courts will do. A number of couples from the Charlotte area have already driven up Interstate 77 to Carroll County, Va. The clerk of court will not only issue the license, but also perform the ceremony.

Also, a judge in Charleston County, S.C., accepted marriage license applications from 19 same-sex couples on Wednesday. The state is waiting 24 hours to see if the Supreme Court halts gay marriage there – the state's attorney general has sought such a ruling – but the judge said he plans to issue the licenses Thursday if the court takes no action.

Supporters of North Carolina's ban on gay marriage don't appear to be giving up in the face of one legal setback after another.

"We have encouraged strongly both the governor and our legislative leaders to intervene in order to provide a defense for our marriage laws and our constitutional amendment," said John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.