#DayOneNC: History at your Doorstep

By Celia Olson

It was a rainy day in Matthews, N.C.  The kind of weather that marks the beginning—and the end—of scary movies.  I was sitting in a Chili’s restaurant, eating a juicy bacon cheeseburger when I got the news: Judge strikes down North Carolina gay marriage ban.  Several advocacy groups had been live-tweeting updates on the status of North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban throughout the week, so I had been following the Civil Rights Clinic Twitter feed all day, refreshing at 20-30 second intervals, waiting for the precise moment when history would be made.  I had the search keyed up so that every time someone tweeted on the topic I would find out instantaneously: #DayOneNC.  And so, at just after 5 PM on Friday night, I found out that same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina.

As far as I know, there haven’t been any reports of catastrophic world-ending events or activity since Friday night.

But let me back up and set the stage for you.

As recently as two weeks ago, same-sex marriage was only legal in nineteen states and the District of Columbia.  Of those nineteen states, three states legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, eight by state legislature, and eight by court decision.[1]

This seems crazy considering that as of right now, 8:15 AM on October 14, 2014, same-sex marriage is legal in 30 states.

The tides turned last Monday, October 6, 2014, when the United States Supreme Court—in unexpected fashion—declined to decide whether states can ban same-sex marriage by rejecting appeals in cases involving five states.  All five states (Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin, and Indiana) had lower court rulings that struck down same-sex marriage bans.  Immediately, those five states reverted back to the lower courts’ binding precedent, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage.  In the span of one week, six other states followed, all of which were bound by the regional federal appeals court rulings that had struck down other bans.[2]

So what does this mean for North Carolina?

North Carolina, along with Alaska, West Virginia, Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado, have since legalized same-sex marriage through subsequent court rulings, bringing the total states with legal same-sex marriage to thirty.  Even more are expected to follow in the upcoming weeks.[3]

Amendment One, North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage, went into effect during a Republican primary in May of 2012 when it was approved by a majority of voters.[4]  On Friday, October 10, 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn struck down Amendment One, citing the controlling Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal’s case, Bostic v. Schaefer, as precedent.[5]  Bostic v. Schaefer involved two same-sex couples: one couple was denied a marriage license in Virginia, and the other couple’s valid California marriage license was not being recognized in Virginia.[6]  They were successful in their fourteenth amendment claim at the trial court level with strong wording by the presiding judge, whose decision was later affirmed by the 4th Circuit:

“A spirited and controversial debate is underway regarding who may enjoy the right to marry in the United States of America. America has pursued a journey to make and keep our citizens free. This journey has never been easy, and at times has been painful and poignant. The ultimate exercise of our freedom is choice. Our Declaration of Independence recognizes that “all men” are created equal. Surely this means all of us.” – Virginia Eastern District Court Judge Arenda L. Wright[7]

In North Carolina, with Judge Cogburn’s ruling, same-sex marriage could begin immediately—and it did.  In Buncombe County, the Register of Deeds stayed open an extra two hours Friday night to ensure that every couple who had been waiting in line could get their marriage license.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

Amy and Lauren first in line in Buncombe County!  Photo courtesy of the Campaign for Southern Equality Twitter Feed.

In Mecklenburg County, the first same-sex marriage license was granted at 8:10 AM on October 13, 2014, to Terrence Hall and Christopher DeCaria.[8]  Unfortunately though, the morning was not all peace, love, and rainbows.  Protesters gathered at the courthouse by 9 AM, yelling at the waiting couples that they were “going to hell.”[9]  Some protestors were asked to leave, while some remained, silently holding signs.  Despite the negativity, 62 couples were able to successfully receive marriage licenses in Charlotte—and others were even married right there at the courthouse!

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

The scene outside the Mecklenburg Courthouse in uptown Charlotte.  The Mecklenburg Register of Deeds said that yesterday was the most marriage licenses ever issued in his county in a single day.

Whether you are straight or gay, if you think this does not affect you—you are wrong.  A recent study conducted by The Williams Institute estimated that with the legalization of same-sex marriage, North Carolina stands to add $64 million to the state and local economy over the next three years due to the increase in weddings being performed in-state.  What same-sex marriage does not affect are the pre-existing and future marriages of heterosexual couples.  Believe it or not, they still will hold valid marriage licenses.

Allowing everyone, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., to receive equal rights under the law is the hallmark of the civil rights movement in the United States.  Thank you, North Carolina, for stepping up and standing on the right side of history.

[1] http://gaymarriage.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004857.

[2] In 30 states – AK, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, ID, IA, IL, IN, ME, MD, MA, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NM, NV, NY, OK, OR, PA, RI, UT, VA, VT, WA, WV and WI, plus Washington, D.C. – same-sex couples have the freedom to marry. http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/.

[3] In an additional five states (Arizona, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, and Wyoming), federal appellate rulings have set binding precedent in favor of the freedom to marry, meaning the path is cleared for the legalization of same-sex marriage there as well.  Id.

[4] http://ballotpedia.org/North_Carolina_Same-Sex_Marriage,_Amendment_1_(May_2012)

[5] http://www.southernequality.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Cogburns-order.pdf

[6] Bostic v. Schaefer, 760 F.3d 352,  (4th Cir. 2014).

[7] Bostic v. Rainey, 970 F. Supp. 2d 456 (E.D. Va. 2014) (language comes from the lower court’s order granting summary judgment to plaintiffs).

[8] http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/10/13/4230114_first-same-sex-marriages-performed.html?rh=1

[9] http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/10/13/5238996/gay-couples-line-up-early-monday.html#.VDwVl_ldXkU

One Response to #DayOneNC: History at your Doorstep

  1. Brittany Moore says:

    What a great article! There is hope for NC yet and out of my home county! Job well done 🙂

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