Quick action expected from North Carolina lawyers
RALEIGH — Lawyers challenging North Carolina's same-sex marriage ban said Tuesday they will press for quick legal rulings after a federal appeals court found a similar law in Virginia unconstitutional.
Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said the group will file motions within the next week asking a U.S. District Court judge in Greensboro to rule based on Monday's decision by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
The ACLU represents same-sex couples in two of the four legal challenges currently pending in the state, including plaintiffs who are seriously ill and want their spouses to have the same legal rights in making medical decisions afforded to heterosexual married couples.
The 4th Circuit court's jurisdiction includes North Carolina. In the decision issued Monday, the appeals judges made specific reference to the close legal similarities between Virginia's ban and Amendment One, North Carolina's constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage approved by voters in 2012.
"It is a matter, at this point, not if Amendment One is struck down, but when Amendment One is struck down," Brook said Tuesday. "(Our clients) need judicial relief, need recognition of their marriages and of their families, not months down the road, not years down the road, but today."
Brook was flanked by some of the plaintiffs in the cases, including Jane Blackburn and Lyn McCoy. The Greensboro couple, together more than 20 years, were legally married outside North Carolina in 2011.
Blackburn has terminal breast cancer and the couple worries whether McCoy will be allowed input into medical decisions and whether she will receive the same death benefits she would if she were married to a man.
"Frankly, we want to get married while she's still alive to do it," McCoy said. Blackburn then added: "And we have gotten married. We were married in Washington, D.C. But it's not the same as being recognized in your home state, among your neighbors and your friends."
Jacob Sussman, the lead lawyer in a separate case where clergy members are challenging the marriage ban on religious grounds, said Tuesday he will also be pushing for an expedited ruling from a federal judge in Charlotte.
Same-sex marriage proponents around the country have won nearly two dozen legal victories since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now allow such marriages.
Attorney General Roy Cooper said within hours of the Virginia ruling that it would be "futile" for his office to continue defending state's ban. He said his office will not oppose new courtroom motions submitted by the ban's opponents.
Supporters of the measure, including Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP leaders in the state legislature, called on Cooper to continue the fight in court.
The issue has political implications, in addition to the legal ones. The same-sex marriage ban is still popular with many socially conservative voters. Cooper, a Democrat, is widely expected to seek his party's nomination to challenge McCrory's re-election bid in 2016.
On Tuesday, Republican state Senate leader Phil Berger Sr. said he and House Speaker Thom Tillis will consider hiring their own lawyers to defend the same-sex marriage ban if Cooper refuses to do so.
Brook said that would be a waste of time.
"As was reflected by Attorney General Cooper's comments yesterday, a smart attorney can read the writing on the wall and knows when a case is lost," the ACLU lawyer said. "Every decision, from judges across the ideological spectrum, has struck down these state marriage bans in the last year. It seems to me an unwise and perverse use of North Carolina taxpayers' dollars to continue to defend the indefensible."