Two years ago, North Carolina voters adopted a sweeping amendment to the state constitution that banned same-sex marriage. However, even the amendment’s proponents knew that the passage of what was known as “Amendment One” knew they were swimming against the tide. State house speaker Thom Tillis–who is now trying to deny Kay Hagan a second term in the U.S. Senate–said that it was very likely the amendment would be struck down within a generation.
Well, Tillis’ prediction was off by at least 20 years. Late Friday, a federal judge in Asheville ruled that Amendment One violated the federal Constitution, clearing the way for North Carolina’s LGBT couples to have their relationships legally sanctioned. U.S. District Judge Max Coburn sided with several ministers who contended Amendment One violated their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion. Within 10 minutes of Cogburn’s ruling being issued, marriage licenses were being issued for couples in Wake County, home to the state capital of Raleigh. The register of deeds in Buncombe County, home to Asheville, was already prepared to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples there and was only waiting for the ruling to be made official.
The road to Friday’s historic ruling began in July, when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out Virginia’s gay marriage ban. This ruling effectively put similar bans in North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia on life support. The fifth state in the circuit, Maryland, has recognized same-sex marriage since 2012. This ruling was one of three that the Supreme Court opted not to take up on Monday–a ruling that effectively made same-sex marriage legal in five states and opened the door for it to be legalized in six more, including North Carolina.
Within minutes of the Supreme Court announcement, Tillis and state senate president pro tem Phil Berger announced they intended to challenge the ruling. This came even as Governor Pat McCrory said that as much as he disagreed with the decision, he felt it had to be respected. By Thursday, they had hired John Eastman, president of the National Organization for Marriage, to argue their case before a federal judge in Greensboro, William Osteen, who was hearing a challenge to the law by three North Carolina couples. The lawmakers had tried to get involved in the clergy case in Asheville, only to be turned down by Cogburn. Proponents of marriage equality were disappointed when Osteen opted not to issue a ruling, instead asking the challengers in the case and state attorney general Roy Cooper to respond to several questions about the Virginia ruling. However, they were elated just three hours later with Cogburn’s ruling.
Berger and Tillis say they will appeal, even though legal experts rolled their eyes at their eleventh-hour effort to get involved. About the only defensible reason to keep up this battle at this point is to throw red meat to the base. After all, it’s the same playbook Jesse Helms used for 30 years. The Charlotte Observer came to the same conclusion in an editorial written the day after the Supreme Court got out of the way. It claimed that Tillis and Berger’s? “irresponsible use of state resources” was “a cynical ploy” to get social conservatives to rush pell-mell to the polls and vote for Tillis next month. The irony here is obvious. I seem to recall that the last person to hold that seat, Liddy Dole, tried a similar gambit six years ago with her now-infamous “Godless Americans” ad in a desperate bid to win a second term by tarring Hagan as an unbeliever. All it got her was the biggest defeat of an incumbent in that cycle.
Until Friday, I was never prouder to be a North Carolinian when my vote helped Hagan return Helms’ old Senate seat to the Democrats. Today’s ruling surpasses that moment by a city mile.
edited by h/l
Darrell Lucus, also known as Christian Dem in NC on Daily Kos, is a radical-lefty Jesus-lover who has been blogging for change for a decade. Follow him on Twitter @DarrellLucus or connect with him on Facebook.