Same-sex marriage ban lifted

Published 1:40 pm Tuesday, October 14, 2014

After a weekend of anticipation, the first same-sex marriage license in the Roanoke-Chowan was issued Monday following an Asheville federal judge’s ruling late Friday cleared the way.

Though some cities in North Carolina had recognized domestic partnership unions, the state in 2012 voted almost three-to-one for Amendment-One, a fiercely debated and highly restrictive amendment to the state constitution that defines marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman.

Friday, U.S. District Judge O. Max Cogburn, Jr. legalized gay marriage in the state when he ruled on a lawsuit filed earlier this year by ministers who had challenged the constitutional amendment that defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Though Cogburn’s federal judicial district only covers the western third of the state, state Attorney General Roy Cooper said through a spokeswoman that the Asheville judge’s order applies statewide. State legislators sought without success to intervene in lawsuits to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Proponents said the amendment was needed to keep “activist judges or politicians” from overturning the 1996 law which had previously denied marriage rights to same-sex couples by statute.

Senator Phil Berger of Rockingham and House Speak Thom Tillis both called the Friday decision disappointing, and issued this statement:

“While we recognize the tremendous passion on all sides of this issue, we promised to defend the will of North Carolina voters because they –not judges and not politicians– define marriage as between one man and one woman and placed that in our state constitution. It is disappointing this decision was made without North Carolina’s law receiving its day in court, and we will continue to work to ensure the voice of the voters is heard.”

Tillis, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, told a television station in Charlotte that he will continue the fight of the lift of the ban.

“We are going to pursue the case through the circuit court and very disappointed the Attorney General doesn’t seem to feel like he needs to do his job on this matter,” Tillis told WSOC-TV.

When the amendment passed nearly two years ago it made North Carolina the final state in the South to pass an amendment banning gay marriage, and the 29th state overall. Ten states have statutes defining marriage as between a man and a woman as the only valid “domestic legal union” in the state and denying recognition to any similar legal status, including civil unions.

Since the ruling, some couples say they’re rushing to marry out of concern that future rulings could go against them; others are merely pouncing on an opportunity they had long awaited.

While a few counties in the state began issuing the licenses to same-sex couples late Friday, in the Roanoke-Chowan area Register of Deeds offices are prepared.

The first same-sex license in the region was issued in Bertie County on Monday morning.  Register of Deeds Annie Wilson said it was a female couple, but would not reveal more.

“Our office is just following protocol,” Wilson said in a telephone interview.  We are going about business as usual.”

Hertford County Registrar Melanie Storey said her office had received “a couple of phone inquiries” but no licenses had been issued.

“Most of the callers are asking what do I need to do to get a marriage license,” Storey said. “There is a marriage form from Vital Records that had to be amended after the ruling.”

Cathy Horton in Gates County revealed that her office has received no calls as of late Monday afternoon.

“But we’re ready,” Horton said. “The applications are ready.”

Unlike the other two counties, Gates County had not yet updated the state forms, but did say their vendor is working on getting the necessary updated computer software installed in the Registrar’s offices.

“We’ll still do it the old-fashioned way, before computers, by hand,” Horton added. “It will still be legal, and we hope to have everything else in place on our system by Tuesday.”

All three Registrars caution potential applicants that one must have the necessary forms to obtain a license, namely a valid ID and Social Security number.

“We’re not licensed to perform the ceremony,” Wilson cautioned. “That has to be done by a magistrate (Justice of the Peace) or an ordained minister.”

Wilson said while it does not have to be an ‘ordained’ minister, it must be performed by a minister of any denomination who has authority given by their representative church.

“They would then have 10 days in order to have the ceremony performed,” Storey said. “Once the form comes back signed by the official and witnessed, they would then be issued a certified certificate of marriage.”