The legal march to allow same-sex marriage in North Carolina continued on several tracks Tuesday, with gay rights advocates in the Triangle asking a federal judge in Greensboro for swift resolution in their cases and clergy asking an Asheville judge to allow them to perform marriages immediately.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper filed status reports in the cases in which he stated that he no longer thought a legal argument existed to defend North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples.
The court actions came on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday that cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to get married in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
No one knew definitely when the federal courts would rule on North Carolina cases, but gay marriage advocates hope it is within days.
“Love has won,” said Jen Jones, communications director for Equality NC, a gay rights advocacy organization. “The time for playing politics with any North Carolina families is done.”
On Monday, after the Supreme Court weighed in on its plans for appeals of circuit court rulings striking down gay marriage bans in Virginia and five other states, U.S. District Judge William Osteen asked parties in the lawsuits filed in the Middle District of North Carolina to let him know in the next 10 days how they planned to proceed.
In Asheville, clergy members asked the federal judge to lift a stay that was put in place while the U.S. Supreme Court weighed the gay marriage cases in other states.
Cooper said in July that he no longer planned to defend North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled. But on Monday, the Republican leaders in the N.C. House of Representatives and N.C. Senate said they planned to intervene.
The Republican leaders are not parties in the federal lawsuits seeking to legalize same-sex marriage, recognize marriages from other states and extend full parental rights to same-sex couples. They would have to file a motion to intervene before Judge Osteen, who would then have to rule to grant them standing.
Efforts to reach Berger and Tillis on Tuesday to discuss their strategy were unsuccessful.
Chris Brook, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, Jones and other advocates of gay marriage again questioned the legislators’ plans.
Parties in the lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s ban have agreed in federal court that the “Virginia and North Carolina bans are legally indistinguishable,” Brook said.
Lawyers typically try to predict the kinds of arguments the other side in a case will make, but Brook said Tuesday that he did not know what that might be.
Cooper said Tuesday that attorneys met with legislative attorneys on Monday and with lawyers for the governor. He said he did not see any reason to keep fighting the legal challenge to North Carolina’s ban.
“The AG’s job is to argue for state laws and also to recognize when there is no legal argument left,” Cooper said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “Our attorneys do their job well and defend North Carolina laws even when I do not agree with them. We believe the courts are bound by the Fourth Circuit ruling and attempts to undo that are futile.”
Two couples who have sued the state seeking the nullification of North Carolina’s constitutional definition of marriage spoke excitedly about wedding plans.
Chantelle and Marcie Fisher-Borne and their two children, Eli, 2, and Miley, 6, plan to celebrate with cake as soon as they can.
“Chocolate cake with cherries and blueberries,” Chantelle Fisher-Borne told a roomful of reporters.
“Lots of blueberries,” Eli said with the unbridled enthusiasm of a 2-year-old nestled against his mother’s shoulder.
The Fisher-Bornes celebrated their commitment to each other with a ceremony 11 years ago.
“The impact on our family is both simple and profound,” Chantelle Fisher-Borne said. “The differences mean that we can rest assured that our love and commitment will be honored by our state.”
Shawn Long, who works for Equality NC, and his longtime partner Craig Johnson said they have been waiting many years for same-sex marriages to become legal so they can call themselves “husband and husband.”
The two have a son, Isaiah, who is 12, and their legal status has sometimes made it challenging to deal with doctor’s offices and other situations when both parents are not available.
North Carolina law does not allow Long to adopt Isaiah. North Carolina law prohibits unmarried couples, same-sex or heterosexual, to adopt legally.
But once Long and Johnson are married, that obstacle would disappear, and either parent could make key decisions for the child.
“Our country is based upon the idea of freedom and equality,” Long said. “This is what this is all about.” Charlotte Observer reporter Mike Gordon contributed to this report.