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Image: ACLU of North Carolina

Court decisions have been coming in a fast and furious fashion in recent days — so fast that many may be left scratching their heads by Judge Osteen’s ruling yesterday on marriage equality.

If you’re one of the thousands who’s saying to him or herself this morning something like “What the heck? I though Judge Cogburn settled this last week,” the good folks at the ACLU of North Carolina issued a statement late yesterday that explains the deal:

Second Federal Judge Rules N.C. Marriage Ban Unconstitutional

GREENSBORO – U.S. District Judge William Osteen today ruled that North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. He is the second federal judge to do so in five days. The ruling came in two lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn issued a separate ruling that struck down North Carolina’s marriage ban and added North Carolina to the list of states to extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. Judge Osteen, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, also gave North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger the ability to intervene in the case on appeal.

“Judge Osteen’s ruling is the second in five days to declare North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional,” said Chris Brook, Legal Director for the ACLU of North Carolina. “This second ruling further emphasizes that North Carolina’s now-defunct marriage ban was discriminatory and denied same-sex couples their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The legislature can attempt to pursue an appeal if they so choose; however, that would only unnecessarily expend taxpayer resources. North Carolinians can rest assured: the freedom to marry is here to stay.”

Background:

The ACLU filed the first legal challenge to North Carolina’s marriage ban in June 2013 when it amended a 2012 lawsuit seeking second parent adoption rights for six families headed by same-sex couples. The adoption lawsuit, Fisher-Borne, et al. v. Smith, was originally filed in June 2012, just weeks after passage of the state’s marriage ban, known as Amendment One, which the ACLU lobbied and campaigned against. In April 2014, the ACLU filed a second lawsuit, Gerber and Berlin, et al. v. Smith, challenging North Carolina’s marriage ban on behalf of three married same-sex couples, one member of which has a serious medical condition.

News

New from the N.C. State Health Plan website’s “newsroom”:

Eligibility Update Regarding Friday’s Ruling on Same Sex Marriages

A federal court has overturned North Carolina’s law regarding same gender marriage, recognizing same sex marriages as legal in North Carolina. This ruling now makes same sex spouses of State Health Plan members eligible for State Health Plan coverage.

This ruling is considered a qualifying life event and eligible spouses will have 30 days to add their spouse. A marriage certificate will be necessary to verify the spouse is an eligible member. The effective date of coverage will be November 1, 2014.

Beyond this initial 30 days, marriage is a qualifying life event and members will have 30 days to add a spouse to their health plan coverage.

Please see your Health Benefits Representative for assistance in enrolling an eligible spouse.

News

From Rockingham County to New Hanover, from Mecklenburg County to Jackson, Register of Deeds offices across North Carolina are issuing their first same-sex marriage licenses this morning.

QNotes reports that as of this morning, all counties are issuing same-sex marriage licenses:

As of Monday morning, all 100 counties in North Carolina were issuing licenses to same-sex couples. Over the weekend, Iredell County Register of Deeds Matt McCall had said he might not issue the licenses, requesting special notice from North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper or other state officials.

The notice came late Sunday evening in an email to all 100 county registers of deeds from officials at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service.

[...]

“I will be issuing marriage licenses to all applicants,” McCall said after receiving the health department email. “This is the confirmation I’ve been waiting for.”

More on Qnotes

Equality NC has been busy catching up with many couples at the courthouses, taking photos and celebrating. Check out some of their intagram photos below or follow them here.

Equality NC has also compiled some helpful information for those LGBTQ couples looking to get married.

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Legal heroes of winning UCC lawsuit stand with newly married couples and @equalitync staff on #DayOneNC #CLT

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Fred and James getting married in Cumberland County!!!! #DayOneNC

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#DayOneNC #MarriageEquality #Raleigh Gabriella and Shawn looking beautiful while getting married.

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#DayOneNC #MarriageEquality #Raleigh ACLU wedding favors.

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#DayOneNC #MarriageEquality #Raleigh People in the park getting an officiated marriage ceremony with John from UCC.

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Commentary

Dan ForestNorth Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest appears to be emerging as the most visible and outspoken opponent of LGBT equality in North Carolina. Forest, who has long been closely associated with the religious hard right, issued a formal statement over the weekend in which he castigated the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn striking down North Carolina’s marriage discrimination law as a case of “an unelected federal judge violat[ing] the foundational principles of this great nation.”

Forest’s statement goes on to give voice to some of the extreme, anti-federal government language that should be familiar to those who have studied the efforts of the mid-20th Century “state’s rights” movement and that has, in more recent times, come to be associated with fringe Tea Party groups that question the basic legitimacy of the present-day federal government:

“The courts have essentially stated that a man ‘marrying’ another man, or a woman another woman, is rooted in our nation’s traditions and history, inferring that states have no interest in the preservation of marriage as an exclusive union between a man and a woman. This strains credulity.

Our people will either submit themselves fully to a federal oligarchy of unelected judges or stand up and proclaim that federalism is alive and well. I hope that you will join me in standing against judicial tyranny, and fight to restore the balance of power intended in the Constitution of the United States.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement that said the following:

“The administration is moving forward with the execution of the court’s ruling and will continue to do so unless otherwise notified by the courts. Each agency will work through the implications of the court’s ruling regarding its operations.”
News

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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