The move specifically affected Indiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wisconsin. But since the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July ruled Virginia’s ban unconstitutional — and North Carolina falls under the 4th Circuit’s jurisdiction — the decision is legally binding as a precedent in the state’s federal courts.
Mike Meno, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said there are currently 19 states with the freedom to marry — but after the Court’s decision, that number is likely to jump to 30 states.
“This is a very big day, but for a lot of families, it can’t come soon enough,” he said. “Couples being able to have the freedom to marry in their own state would be nothing short of life-changing.”
Marriage for gay couples, Meno said, would allow them to raise a family as they wish and to have full legal custody over their children, among other benefits.
Chris Sgro, executive director of gay rights group Equality N.C., said there is no longer a question of whether North Carolina will have marriage equality, because the state’s ban — known as Amendment One — stands on shaky legal ground.
“It will not be an extended timeline, and we’re certainly not talking a year,” he said. “It could be a matter of days.”
Sgro said he hadn’t anticipated a move from the court this soon.
Experts had speculated for months that the justices would take up one of the five gay marriage cases for review this term, with a final ruling coming before the end of June 2015.
“It is momentous and so unexpected,” Sgro said. “It is something that many couples have been waiting for for a lifetime and many have been working on for a generation.”
Meno said nationwide chapters of the ACLU and other groups are now asking federal courts to strike down bans immediately.
North Carolina’s ACLU chapter is trying to push forward its two federal lawsuits that are currently pending in the U.S. District Court in Greensboro.
Meno said the organization is also filing for a summary judgment that could invalidate the state’s marriage ban.
“There’s nothing that should delay committed couples in North Carolina from being able to marry the person they love,” he said.
Still, Lydia Lavelle, Carrboro mayor and an assistant law professor at N.C. Central University, said gay marriage would not be the end of the equality push for the LGBT community.
“There are other areas of law where people are treated unfairly, such as in employment and housing discrimination,” she said. “We’ll see some rise and evolution of case laws in those issues.”
Businesses in some states aren’t complying with public accommodation laws prohibiting discrimination against customers for attributes like sexuality, she said.
Brian Beaman, co-president of UNC’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance, said the court’s decision was just a beginning platform for LGBT-related issues.
“I’m glad this decision happened,” he said. “But marriage equality isn’t the end-all, be-all. It’s the starting point of further discussions of LGBT rights.”