Gay marriage is now legal in 35 states and Washington, D.C.
After the passage of N.C. Amendment One in May 2012, North Carolina’s gay marriage ban was challenged in district court by four lawsuits. One of those challenges, initiated by the United Church of Christ, led to a decision in October that struck down the ban.
N.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and Speaker of the N.C. House Thom Tillis, who is now a U.S. senator-elect, released a statement in December 2013 announcing they had retained outside legal counsel to help them defend the state’s gay marriage ban.
In February, Virginia’s ban on gay marriage was struck down by a federal judge. The decision was put on hold and appealed to the 4th Circuit. Because North Carolina also falls under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit, a decision in that case would become a precedent in the state.
“Virginia’s holding that overrides the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage is really and truly the first victory in the South,” said Jen Jones, spokeswoman for the LGBT advocacy group Equality N.C., in February.
Federal judges in the 4th Circuit upheld the decision overturning Virginia’s ban in July. N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper announced at a news conference after the ruling that he would no longer defend North Carolina’s ban in court.
In October, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings in five states that had struck down gay marriage bans, including Virginia — which legal experts said would likely clear the way for same-sex marriage in North Carolina.
Two days later, a North Carolina district court judge lifted his stay on the four lawsuits challenging the state’s gay marriage ban.
“This is a very big day, but for a lot of families, it can’t come soon enough,” Mike Meno, spokesman for the N.C. American Civil Liberties Union, said at the time.
A federal judge struck down the gay marriage ban on Oct. 10 — and dozens of couples around the state sped to register of deeds offices to tie the knot.
In November, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trend of federal court rulings against gay marriage bans — a panel of judges upheld bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.
Tillis and Berger responded by appealing to the 4th Circuit to reverse the North Carolina decision that legalized gay marriage.
UNC law professor Maxine Eichner said a final decision on gay marriage is now likely to go to the Supreme Court, since there is a split in the circuit courts.
“Then the question is what they’ll do with it.”