Without the stay, District Court judges will have to proceed with a ruling on the state’s gay marriage ban.
“We’re as close as we’ve ever been,” said Mike Meno, spokesman for North Carolina’s American Civil Liberties Union. “We’re not talking about weeks and months and years; we’re talking about hours and days.”
The judge’s decision came in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s move Monday to let stand rulings striking down gay marriage bans in five states. One of the rulings came from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, of which North Carolina is a part, thus setting a legally binding precedent in the state’s courts.
“It’s almost a certainty that he’s going to declare not only the constitutional amendment in North Carolina but also our statutes that deal with this issue unconstitutional,” said Steve Nickles, a law professor at Wake Forest University.
The Supreme Court’s move on Monday has had a domino-like effect on gay-marriage bans nationwide — but in many states, the process has been fraught with conflict and confusion.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned gay marriage bans in Nevada and Idaho Wednesday morning, but Idaho officials requested an emergency stay from the Supreme Court, which was granted temporarily.
In South Carolina, where several couples had sought marriage licenses Wednesday, Attorney General Alan Wilson requested that the state Supreme Court stop judges from issuing them.
But Nickles said there aren’t enough differences between gay marriage bans across the country for the U.S. Supreme Court to review any appeals in support of a ban, since the justices denied hearing five of them on Monday.
“What the Supreme Court has said to date on this issue really leaves no room practically for any court anywhere to uphold a prohibition,” he said.
N.C. Speaker of the House and U.S. Senate hopeful, Thom Tillis, and N.C. Senate Leader Phil Berger released a statement Monday promising to intervene and defend the ban.
But Meno said it’s too late for them to take action.
“For them to enter at such a late stage would do nothing but waste taxpayer dollars defending a discriminatory and indefensible ban,” he said.
Meno said N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has instructed county registry offices to be prepared to issue marriage licenses to the influx of same-sex couples expected at the courthouses as soon as a court decision goes through. Cooper had said that he would not defend the state’s gay marriage ban in court.
Deborah Brooks, Orange County register of deeds, said the office is ready to issue licenses as soon as they receive approval from the courts.
Shawn Long, director of operations at Equality N.C., said he and his partner of 20 years, Craig Johnson, would be at the courthouse the moment the ban is struck down. Long and Johnson, along with several other families and the ACLU, are part of one of the lawsuits challenging Amendment One.
Long and Johnson have a 12-year-old son, Isaiah, who is only legally recognized as Johnson’s child because the state does not allow joint adoption of a child unless the couple is married. Long said they can begin the adoption process once they are married.
“We are now engaged, as we have not been, because we’ve been waiting,” he said. “We both agreed that we were not going to actually get married until we could get married in our home state of North Carolina, and now it’s finally, finally happening.”