The Transylvania Times -

By Jeremiah Reed
Staff Writer 

Same-Sex Marriage Decision Reaction – Brevard NC

 


For gay rights advocates, action – or in this case inaction – spoke louder than words on Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear appeals cases from five states regarding bans on gay marriage could signal another victory in the battle for marriage equality.

The Supreme Court’s decision immediately impacts five states – Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin – but has a wider ripple effect that could open up the door for legalized same-sex marriages in six additional states, including North and South Carolina.

The impact on North Carolina stems from a ruling made by the Fourth U.S. District Court of Appeals in July, which struck down the state of Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring appealed the Fourth Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the appeal essentially set a new precedent for Virginia, as well as other states in the Fourth Circuit, which includes North Carolina. Five other states – Colorado, Kansas, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming – were similarly affected by the decision by way of legal precedent based on cases within their respective judicial circuits.

North Carolina has not recognized same-sex marriages since 1996 but remained the only state in the southeast without a constitutional amendment specifically banning the practice prior to the passing of Amendment One in 2012.

Amendment One added a sixth section to Article 14 of the N.C. Constitution stating, “marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” Virginia’s state constitution has a similar amendment that was enacted in 2006.

Amendment One passed 61 percent to 39 percent in North Carolina during the May 2012 primaries with 35 percent voter turnout. In Transylvania County, there was 43 percent voter turnout – one of the highest in the state – with Amendment One passing 62 percent to 38 percent.

The decision by the Supreme Court means in the coming weeks, once states move into accordance with the precedent of the Circuit Courts, that 30 of 50 states, including the District of Columbia, could have legalized same-sex marriages.

The Supreme Court’s decision falls in line with the trend over the past 20 years that has seen marriage equality for same-sex couples slowly but steadily gain support among the American public.

A Gallup poll conducted in 1996 showed 68 percent of Americans disapproved of same-sex marriage; by 2004 that number dropped to 55 percent. In 2014, figures showed a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage by 54 percent.

The issue of same-sex marriage in North Carolina was a rallying point for some campaigns during the 2012 primaries but recent data indicates the greatest discrepancy among supporters and non-supporters of gay marriage lies in the generational gap and not partisanship.

While a majority of Republicans remain opposed to same-sex marriage, 61 percent of GOP voters under the age of 30 support same-sex marriage, according to a recent Pew Research survey. That survey showed only 22 percent of Republicans over the age of 65 supported same-sex marriage.

For Democrats, 77 percent, ages 18-29, support gay marriage. That figure drops slightly to 62 percent for Democrats over 65 years old, according to Pew.

In the Tar Heel State, an April poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed 40 percent of North Carolinians believe gay marriage should be legal, compared to 53 percent who believe it should be illegal. That study also showed 62 percent of state residents support legal rights for same-sex couples by way of marriage or civil union compared to 34 percent who believe same-sex couples should have no recognition at all.

Reaction

Across the state, as well as the nation, the reaction to Monday’s decision was as divisive as the issue itself with some hailing a victory and others speaking out against what they view as a sign of further decay in the morals of society.

One area organization that has prominently advocated for marriage equality is the Campaign for Southern Equality. The Asheville-based organization was launched in 2011 and has worked on various efforts with the goal of ensuring equal rights and protection for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Aaron Sarver, spokesperson for the organization, said Monday’s decision was a huge victory for marriage equality in North Carolina.

“It’s a big step forward,” Sarver said. “The Fourth Circuit ruling that is now in effect means that Amendment One should be struck down in a matter of days and any day now we should see same-sex couples heading to the Register of Deeds offices all across North Carolina and receiving marriage licenses.”

Sarver said the decision also means that once Amendment One is officially struck down that gay couples who were legally married in other states will be recognized as married under North Carolina law.

Carter Heyward, a feminist theologian and ordained Episcopalian priest, also lauded the decision. Heyward, who is gay, said as impactful as the decision was it was something she expected to happen.

“This is huge and not at all unexpected. I think the Supreme Court, for whatever its reasoning, has a fairly savvy strategy to let the state laws fall under the weight of the federal circuits, so (the Supreme Court) doesn’t have to get involved directly,” she said.

Heyward says she sees this strategy of slowly legalizing gay marriage by allowing decisions made at the circuit court level to stand as being a more effective means of social progress and also having more staying power legally. Heyward said she believes, as the trend continues, that same-sex marriage will be legal across the nation in a matter of a few years.

Religious leaders have been among the most outspoken opponents to gay marriage and while Monday’s decision was a victory to some, for those on the other side of the issue it comes as a disappointment.

Randy Barton, pastor of Anchor Baptist Church, helped campaign in support of Amendment One in 2012 and remains opposed to gay marriage. Barton said his primary concern is what he views as the erosion of the moral fiber of society.

Barton said civilization is based on “lines that we draw” as a society and over time many of those lines have shifted. Moving those lines, Barton said, has created a slippery slope that he fears could lead to further moral decay.

“The question is now, ‘What’s next?’” Barton said. “As the moral fiber of society erodes, what is the next target? What is the next moral barrier that will be attacked? Is it the legalization of marijuana in our state? Is it lowering the age of consent? Where do we go from here?”

As an example of such progression, Barton said in one state where same-sex marriage is legal a man has brought forth a challenge that he has the right to legally engage in multiple marriages, that his multiple wives have the right to health coverage and the children birthed from those wives have the right to benefits as well.

Barton also cited negative impacts on the traditional family structure that Monday’s decision could have.

“Marriage was created for the purpose of the family, rearing children and we don’t have to look very far into the statistics to see what a detriment the breakup of the family has had on children… So if anything you would think we would be on the road to strengthen the families of our country and our state as opposed to tearing down those same values,” he said.

Barton said he finds it ironic that government regulations, on both the state and federal level, continue to expand in nearly every segment of society except the area of morality.

“The moral code is the only area that is basically eroding and that is the one area the government has authority in,” Barton said.

Barton was also critical of the original decision of the three Fourth Circuit judges to strike down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriages, despite the fact that the state amendment banning gay marriages was passed by a majority of state residents. Barton said it was unfortunate that “judicial activism” was overriding the will of the people.

Heyward said she sympathizes with that position but said a similar scenario could have unfolded during the Civil Rights era if white people had been asked to vote on an amendment recognizing the civil rights of African-Americans. Heyward said it is doubtful such a piece of legislation would have passed if those in the majority opinion were allowed to vote on an issue pertaining to the rights of the minority.

Heyward said part of the reason behind the federal court system is to sometimes intervene on behalf of justice, even if that isn’t a popular decision among the majority.

“The popular will is always going to be more conservative. It’s unfortunate but that’s just the way it is. As a human being I can understand the frustration and bafflement on the part of people who say, ‘(Amendment One) is the will of the people.’ Well, when the will of the people is not on the side of justice, the courts have to step in,” she said.

Moving Forward

While the Supreme Court’s inaction regarding the Fourth Circuit’s ruling means the repeal of Amendment One is expected soon, there is no timetable on that decision or when gay couples in North Carolina can officially file for a marriage license.

U.S. District Judge William Osteen, who presided over two cases brought by the ACLU challenging North Carolina’s gay marriage ban, previously halted all legal proceedings until the Supreme Court took action.

On Monday, Osteen issued an order to both sides of the lawsuits giving them 10 days to let him know how they wish to proceed. For gay rights advocates, they hope that decision will come sooner rather than later.

“We are asking the district court here in North Carolina to immediately issue a ruling striking down North Carolina’s unconstitutional and discriminatory ban on marriage for same-sex couples,” said ACLU legal director Chris Brook. “Every day that gay and lesbian couples in North Carolina are denied the ability to marry the person they love places their families and children in legal and financial jeopardy. The time has come to end this unfair treatment once and for all and to let our American values of freedom and equality apply to all couples.”

Although state constitutional bans are still effective until they are officially repealed, some officials at the local level aren’t waiting for that decision and have already begun issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Early Wednesday, a judge in Charleston County, S.C. issued a marriage license to two women, despite the state’s constitutional ban still being in effect and despite the vow of state Attorney General Alan Wilson to continue fighting against gay marriage.

In North Carolina, some state leaders have also spoken about their plan to fight in support of Amendment One. Following the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in July, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper publicly announced his decision to no longer defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriages citing his belief that it was a legal battle the state could not win.

Phil Berger, president pro tempore of the N.C. Senate, and Speaker of the House Thom Tillis were critical of Cooper’s decision at the time and released a joint statement on Monday of their intention to continue the fight that Cooper refused to engage in.

“The people of North Carolina have spoken, and while the Supreme Court has not issued a definitive ruling on the issue of traditional marriage, we are hopeful they will soon. Until then, we will vigorously defend the values of our state and the will of more than 60 percent of North Carolina voters who made it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman,” the statement read.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory released a statement reading, “I disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision, which goes against the amendment that North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved. We will continue to respect the legal process as it proceeds.”

North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan has not released an official statement regarding the Supreme Court’s decision but reiterated her past opposition to Amendment One in a statement to the Charlotte Observer on Monday.

“I opposed Amendment One because I don’t think we should tell people who they can love or who they can marry,” Hagan was quoted as saying.

While opposition may remain, some legal experts have indicated further attempts to defend Amendment One would ultimately be in vain.

“Any action by Berger and Tillis at this late date would surely be a waste of taxpayer money,” Brook said.

Sarver agreed and said while it could take a week or so before Amendment One is officially repealed he doesn’t see any scenario where the issue would drag out in the judicial system.

State officials seem to believe the repeal of Amendment One will happen fairly quickly and have instructed local offices to be ready to process marriage certificates for same-sex couples. In a press release issued Tuesday, Cooper said county Register of Deeds offices across the state should be prepared for a judge to repeal the amendment “relatively soon.”

Cindy Ownbey, Transylvania County Register of Deeds, said she has discussed the situation with her staff and while no same-sex couple has reached out to the office since Monday, she said they would be ready if they got any applications once Amendment One is appealed.

Ownbey said the process of acquiring a marriage certificate would not change and outside of rewording some of the language in the documents and possibly updating some computer software she did not anticipate her office would undergo any major adjustments.

 
 

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