North Carolina has granted same-sex couples the freedom to marry.
On the evening of October 10, Judge Max Cogburn ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, known as Amendment One, is unconstitutional and ordered that same-sex couples be allowed to marry immediately.
In a three-page ruling, he wrote, “Defendants are PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from enforcing such laws to the extent these laws prohibit a person from marrying another person of the same gender, prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully solemnized in other States, Territories, or a District of the United States, or seek to punish in any way clergy or other officiants who solemnize the union of same-sex couples.
“With the exception of retaining such jurisdiction as may be necessary to enforce such injunction, this action is otherwise DISMISSED.”
The case that Cogburn ruled on was somewhat unusual: first, Amendment One not only banned same-sex couples from marrying, but also criminalized officiating over a marriage ceremony without checking that the couple had a valid marriage license. Second, the challenge to the law was brought by clergy members fighting in favor of marriage equality.
According to a press release from the United Church of Christ (UCC), “The landmark lawsuit was the first instance of a national Christian denomination challenging a state’s marriage statutes.”
UCC national officer Reverend J. Bennett Guess is quoted as saying, “We are thrilled by this clear victory for both religious freedom and marriage equality in the state of North Carolina. In lifting North Carolina’s ban on same-gender marriage, the court’s directive makes it plain that the First Amendment arguments, made by the UCC and our fellow plaintiffs, were both persuasive and spot-on. Any law that threatens clergy who choose to solemnize a union of same-sex couples, and threatens them with civil or criminal penalties, is unconstitutional.”
UCC associate general counsel Heather Kimmel added, “We are thrilled that the judge’s order specifically recognized the religious freedom implications of this case and our clergy will be able to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies as faith practices call for without fear of prosecution.”
Though the Supreme Court’s October 6 decision to allow previous rulings against eleven states’ bans to stand applied to North Carolina as well, a number of Republican officials in the state responded by filing a brief detailing their arguments in favor of keeping the state’s ban, approved by voters in 2012.
However, their efforts only briefly prevented the ruling from being implemented, and legal experts said that the filing was highly unlikely to gain any traction in court.
University of North Carolina law professor Maxine Eichner told the dailytarheel, “It’s a theoretical issue, but not really a practical issue. In terms of what will practically happen, it’s over. Amendment One is struck down.”