GREENSBORO — A second federal judge all but ruled the ban on gay marriage dead in the state on Tuesday, even while giving top Republican lawmakers the go-ahead to proceed with an appeal financed with taxpayer money.
And that became the latest wrinkle in the saga of same-sex couples in North Carolina.
“N.C. voters ... deserve their day,” Senate President Phil Berger said in a statement released after the ruling from U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen Jr., who had been expected since last week to rule on arguments concerning Amendment One, the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages.
N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper has said that with the recent rulings in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, it would be futile to defend Amendment One, which was approved by voters in 2012.
“No amount of spending our money ... will resurrect it,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina.
Although Osteen, a President George W. Bush appointee, had signaled last week he was ready to rule, he had not by late Friday.
That’s when U.S. District Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. of Asheville — in a move few saw coming — declared the ban unconstitutional based on another lawsuit. That case, heard by the President Barack Obama appointee, was filed by clergy, who said the constitutional amendment prevented them from doing their jobs.
After Cogburn’s ruling on Friday, register of deeds offices in Guilford, Wake and Buncombe counties reopened and began issuing marriage licenses right away — with actual weddings taking place in the government offices.
On Monday, same-sex couples almost set a record for the most marriage licenses filed in a day at Guilford’s register of deeds office.
Greensboro residents Shana Carignan and wife Megan Parker became the first same-sex couple to file adoption paperwork so they could have joint custody of their son, Jax, who has cerebral palsy.
On Tuesday, gay-rights advocates viewed the move by GOP lawmakers as a last-gasp effort.
Marriage equality “remains the law of the land,” Sgro said.
Social media lit up Tuesday when Osteen — behind Cogburn — became the second federal judge to rule against the state’s same-sex marriage ban in five days. The ruling came in two lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.
But Osteen’s ruling gave Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis the ability to intervene in the case on appeal, as they said they would.
“The legislature can attempt to pursue an appeal if they so choose. However, that would only unnecessarily expend taxpayer resources,” Chris Brook, legal director of the state ACLU chapter, responded in a written statement. “North Carolinians can rest assured: The freedom to marry is here to stay.”
News that the state’s top two GOP leaders would move ahead on appeal — in light of the higher court rulings — didn’t seem to concern those who wed after the historic ruling.
“It seems settled,” said Shawn Long of Wake Forest, a plaintiff in one of the cases, who married his husband Monday. “I don’t see how it can be anything else.”