Local Politics

Definition of family at stake in NC marriage fight

Posted October 7, 2014 10:19 a.m. EDT
Updated October 7, 2014 4:21 p.m. EDT

— A day after the Supreme Court declined to hear state appeals in support of a ban on same-sex marriage, couples in Raleigh suing for the right to marry spoke out in favor of a quick overturn of North Carolina's ban.

"We don't need to be waiting another 10 days," said Chris Brook, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina.

North Carolina's constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman has been challenged in court and would be subject to the ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage.

"Everyone agrees that the Virginia and North Carolina marriage bans are legally indistinguishable," Brook said.

After that ruling, federal Judge William Osteen Jr. issued a stay of any change in North Carolina pending a Supreme Court action. The court's decision Monday leaves the Virginia ruling in place and, Osteen wrote in an order, leaves him likely to overturn the North Carolina ban.

Osteen gave parties to the marriage law challenge in North Carolina 10 days to file status reports before he takes any action.

Brook pledged that his group, which represents nine families, would have their update to Osteen well within the 10-day deadline.

"Love has won. The time for playing politics with any North Carolina families is done," said Jen Jones, director of communications for Equality NC.

Supporters of the North Carolina status quo disagreed, even on the point of whether Virginia's ban is similar enough to overturn North Carolina's.

"We were very disappointed in the Supreme Court's refusal to take any of the cases," said John Rustin, president of the NC Family Policy Council.

Rustin believes there are nuances in the many cases that could yet lead to a Supreme Court decision.

"The Supreme Court may be waiting for a contrary opinion to come out of one of the other districts that have not had a marriage case come forth yet,” he said.

"We have strongly encouraged both the governor and our legislative leaders to intervene in order to provide a defense for our marriage laws and our constitutional amendment."

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate Leader Phil Berger said Monday afternoon that they are prepared to do just that, even if it means a North Carolina case ends up back before the 4th 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.”

Definition of family at stake

The families present Tuesday emphasized their similarities to straight couples, and said a legal action won't change their day-to-day lives.

"The difference will be that we will rest assured that our love and commitment to each other and our children will be honored by our state," said Chantelle Fisher-Borne. She and her wife, Marcie, wed in Washington, D.C., and have two children.

"I love my wife. I love our kids, and that's why we do this. People don't get married because they want health insurance. We get married because we want to share our lives together," she said.

Shawn Long pointed out that the status quo leaves him with no parental rights for the child he is raising with partner Craig Johnson.

"The complete driving force is our son, Isaiah," Long said. Current law doesn't allow Long to adopt Isaiah.

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

"I look forward great expectation to the time when Shawn and I can say, 'Yes, we are husbands,'" Johnson said.

That's a description that bothers NC Family Policy Council's Rustin even more. His group believes children raised by same sex couples are missing out.

"By approving same-sex marriage, you are by default depriving that child that is raised in that household of either a mother or a father," he said.

"Thousands of years of human history shows it is within that relationship between a man and a woman, a married man and a woman, that children are not only conceived naturally, but it is the best environment for raising children and providing them all the essential ingredients they need to be raised in a productive household and a productive environment,” Rustin said.