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Lennie and Pearl

Lennie Gerber and Pearl Berlin — Photo credit: ACLU of North Carolina

Michael Biesecker of AP has a wonderfully heartwarming story this morning that’s available in several news outlets about one of the couples leading the legal fight for marriage equality in North Carolina. Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber have been together for 48 years and the notion that they might taste victory in the near future as Pearl battles health problems is a very cheering notion.

(As an aside, it should also be pointed out that, in addition to being a plaintiff in the legal challenge to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination amendment, Gerber (on the left) was once one of North Carolina’s finest consumer rights attorneys — she managed the Winston-Salem legal aid office for years and helped save countless people of modest income from various financial predators.)

All that said, it should also be noted that when marriage equality does come, the fight for justice will be far from over. As a our panelists eloquently explained at last week’s Crucial Conversation luncheon on the subject (watch the video here), LGBT North Carolinians can still be summarily fired by their employers because of who they are.  In other words, if same sex couples get the chance to be married in the near future, many will still have to remain in the closet for fear that placing their wedding photo on their desk at work will still get them fired.

And rest assured, even if the courts soon order marriage equality, Paul Stam and the other theocrats in the General Assembly will be doing their utmost to prevent passage of a law banning discrimination in the workplace and/or public accommodations. In other words, there’s a heck of a lot of work still to do.

 

marriage amendmentThe Fourth Circuit today denied a request by parties defending Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban to stay the court’s ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer pending a petition for review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

On July 28 the court held that the Virginia law was unconstitutional and entered judgement on that date. The ruling is scheduled to go into effect on August 18, 2014.

Michèle B. McQuigg, the  Prince William County Clerk of Circuit Court and a defendant in Bostic, told the court that she intends to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court by October 26, 2014, and asked that implementation of the ruling be stayed in the meantime, citing the potential of confusion and inconsistent results:

The absence of a stay will likely produce legal uncertainty and confusion. The Utah marriage case serves as a useful example. In Utah, after the district court struck down the state’s marriage laws, the district court and the Tenth Circuit declined to issue a stay.  As a result, many same-sex couples in Utah obtained marriage licenses pursuant to the district court’s injunction. Days later, however, the Supreme Court stayed the injunction, and Utah’s man-woman marriage laws went back into effect. Thus, the State of Utah now declines to recognize the licenses that were issued to same-sex couples during that interim period.

Same-sex couples who obtained licenses during that period filed a lawsuit in federal court to require the State to recognize those licenses as valid. The district court held that the interim licenses must be recognized, but the Supreme Court again stayed that decision pending appellate resolution. Thus, the validity of those licenses is still in limbo.

For more on the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in Bostic, read here.

At yesterday’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon on the future of marriage equality, Chris Brook, the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, made it pretty clear what he intends to argue in federal court when he next gets the opportunity in the organization’s challenges to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination law. Brook said he’s going to point to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond (the precedents of which apply to North Carolina), show the judge that court’s decision in the recent Bostic v. Schaefer case and then just sit down.

It’s an obvious strategy — namely, that the ruling striking down Virginia’s discrimination law in Bostic is right on point and there really isn’t much that a North Carolina federal judge can do but abide by it.

This is why Attorney General Cooper made his recent announcement that he would stop wasting North Carolina taxpayers’ money by trying to defend North Carolina’s indefensible law.  It would be a futile and costly gesture — not unlike attempting to defend a law that banned interracial marriage.

Of course, as Sharon McCloskey’s story immediately below makes plain, this patently obvious logic is apparently lost on Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis who are, quite remarkably (if one of Berger’s members is to be believed), taking steps to impeach Cooper over his utterly reasonable, constitutional and ethically-bound decision.

By all indications, Berger and Tillis simply want Cooper to tilt at the Bostic windmill and manufacture insipid, sure-fire-loser arguments as is being tried in a few other states. Today, we got a good idea of what some of those arguments would look like when the folks at ThinkProgress published a handy list of The 10 Craziest Arguments Two States Are Using to Defeat Marriage Equality.” This is from the post: Read More

Sanderson-CooperState Sen. Norm Sanderson (R-Pamlico) told those attending the inaugural meeting of the Morehead-Beaufort Tea Party yesterday that the top leadership in both GOP-controlled branches of the legislature are working to remove Attorney General Roy Cooper from office, according to this report in The Carteret County News-Times.

Citing Cooper’s announcement in late July that his office would no longer defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban after the Fourth Circuit found Virginia’s similar law unconstitutional, Sanderson said:

“If he’s not going to defend what we, the citizens of North Carolina, want him to defend, we need to probably impeach him because he’s been a vocal opponent of the marriage amendment ever since it was passed.”

He added that steps are in place once Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis give the green light.

“Our leadership hasn’t made the final decision but everything is on ready, set, go if that’s what we want to do.”

Of course, doing what some lawmakers and citizens of the state want him to do is not the job of the Attorney General.

Here’s Jim Tierney, former Maine Attorney General and now director of the National State Attorneys General Program at Columbia Law School:

The simple truth is that attorney general refusal to defend happens all the time.

Legislatures are comprised in most states by non-lawyers trying to do the right thing, but they do not understand the complexity of constitutional limits. They are advised, but often plunge ahead — both liberals and conservatives — and make constitutional mistakes. It then falls to the attorney general to clean this mess up.

The attorney general is supposed to uphold the constitution – that’s his job.

And you want your attorney general telling the truth. If the attorney general in his view says ‘you’ve got some real constitutional issues here,’ I would think any governor would want to know that before he signs a bill.

 

 

Southern EqaulityIf there’s a more significant positive policy change looming on the horizon in North Carolina than the potential near-term arrival of marriage equality, it’s hard to say what that would be.

So, when might it happen? What has to happen first?

Don’t miss the chance to learn the answers to these and other similar questions at tomorrow’s very special Crucial Conversation luncheon in Raleigh:

The freedom to marry in North Carolina: Now what?

Featuring Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation; Jen Jones, Director of Communications and Outreach at Equality North Carolina; and plaintiffs in the court challenge to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination amendment.

When: Thursday, August 7, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here for more information and to register.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

- See more at: http://www.ncpolicywatch.com/2014/07/31/crucial-conversation-the-freedom-to-marry-in-north-carolina-now-what/#sthash.VSz7C8sO.dpuf