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After last night’s historic ruling legalizing same-sex marriages in North Carolina, one county register of deeds says the McCrory administration unnecessarily delayed releasing gender-neutral marriage license forms.

Wake Register of Deeds Laura Riddick (photo from Riddick's office)

Wake Register of Deeds Laura Riddick (Photo from Riddick’s office)

Laura Riddick, a Republican first elected to county office in 1996, released a statement Friday saying that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services refused her earlier requests for a copy of an existing gender-neural marriage license. DHHS is led by Aldona Wos, a Greensboro physician and wealthy Republican fundraiser appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory in January 2013.

Riddick kept her office open until after 9 p.m. Friday evening to issue marriage licenses after U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn Jr.’s order at around 5:30 p.m. that night declaring North Carolina’s ban on gay marriages unconstitutional.

Some of the first legal gay couples to marry in the state did outside Riddick’s office, including Wake County Sheriff Department employees Chad Briggs and Chris Creech who exchanged their vows as local news stations broadcast the union on live television.

Riddick, along with other Registers of Deeds across the state, hoped to have her department’s computer systems updated and ready when the expected federal court order legalizing same-sex marriages came down. (Click here for background on issue.)

DHHS withholding the form was “neither justified nor professional,” Riddick said in a statement.

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U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. has given N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and attorneys representing same-sex couples until 3 p.m. Monday to respond to requests by state legislative leaders to intervene.

Couples around the state had been waiting in courthouses to see if Osteen would rule North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional. A similar federal case regarding whether religious leaders’ rights to perform same-sex marriages is still pending.

 

N.C. House Speaker (and U.S. Senate candidate) Thom Tillis and state Sen. President Pro-Tem Phil Berger asked to intervene in the case and stop couples from marrying earlier today.

Tillis and Berger are hoping to intervene by arguing that their interests opposing same-sex marriages were no longer being represented by  Cooper, who announced earlier this year that his office would no longer defend North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages after a federal circuit court found a similar ban in Virginia was unconstitutional.

Cooper is a Democrat and Berger and Tillis are both Republicans.

In his order, Osteen indicated that he would make his decision quickly.

“The parties are advised that this court will proceed to ruling an order on the motion to intervene and a final order as soon as reasonably possible following receipt of the briefs from Plaintiffs and the State of North Carolina,” he wrote. “Movants should not anticipate a lengthy proceedings in this court in ligth of the applicability of the Bostic and these cases will not be delayed unnecessarily.”

Osteen’s order is here:

 

osteen10.10 by NC Policy Watch

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Some difficult news came today to Raeford, where the poultry processing company House of Raeford announced it was shutting down its remaining factory in the town it was named after.

raefordThe company announced it would close the the Hoke County plant that cooked and processed frozen food in the next 60 days. Approximately 400 people will lose their jobs, according to this report from the Fayetteville Observer. The company attributed the closure to a 250 percent increase in the cost of turkey and other ingredients used for the food products at the plant, the Observer reported.

The town, located 20 miles west of Fayetteville, and  surrounding area is still reeling from the summer 2013 closure of a House of Raeford processing plant, where close to 1,000 worked on assembly lines slaughtering and disassembling turkeys. As N.C. Policy Watch reported last year, many of those who worked at the plant came from the surrounding counties in a a part of the state dealing with  already-high rates of unemployment and poverty in the state.

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While North Carolina awaits a federal judge’s signal that same-sex couples can marry, county registers of deeds don’t know when they’ll get the necessary forms from the state health agency to marry those couples.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week to not take up cases about same-sex marriage paved the way for gay couples to marry in North Carolina, after a federal judge found a state ban on the marriages unconstitutional.

A federal judge lifted a stay late Wednesday, an indication that an order declaring North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional will be forthcoming.

Once that happens, county register of deeds can immediately start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services has yet to respond to requests from county-level registers of deeds for a gender-neutral application form for marriage licenses, as was first reported Tuesday by Q-Notes, a Charlotte-based LGBT publication. Several registers of deeds have said the state have already developed a form.

In the meantime, registers of deed will simply cross out terms like “bride” and “groom,” said Crystal Crump, the register of deeds for Union County and past president of the state association for register of deeds.

“We hate crossing through” on the forms, Crump said, but would prefer that to having to delay issuing marriage licenses.

DHHS said it is aware of the impending changes after the Supreme Court decision, but does not have the authority to release a gender-neutral form until the actual law is changed.

“At this time, N.C. DHHS is bound by existing state law and has no legal authority to issue a gender-neutral form in the absence of a court order or a statutory change,” DHHS spokeswoman Alexandra Lefebvre wrote in a written statement. “N.C. DHHS is aware of the Supreme Court decision and is closely monitoring how it may be applied in several pending cases that involve North Carolina’s marriage law.”

Note: This post changed from the original to include the correct spelling of DHHS spokeswoman Alexandra Lefebvre’s name.

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An environmental law firm says the state agency tasked with protecting natural resources downplayed the dangers of toxic coal-ash storage ponds in Wilmington by ranking dams there a “low hazard.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center sent a letter Thursday to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources refuting the state agency’s 2013 assessment that dams holding coal ash storage ponds at Duke Energy’s L.V. Sutton Plant in Wilmington posed little risk to the environment or human health.

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

The dams hold back the toxic byproducts of coal-fired power plants from Lake Sutton, a popular public recreational lake often used for boating and fishing.

The letter sent last week (scroll down to read) from the Chapel Hill-based environmental group asks DENR to reassess the hazard level. A DENR spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the situation.

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