Updated 10:26 p.m.
RALEIGH — A federal judge overseeing a pair of challenges to North Carolina's gay marriage ban has denied a motion from lawyers for Republican legislative leaders seeking more than a weeklong delay in the case.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. in Greensboro issued a ruling late Thursday denying a request from House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger that they be given until Oct. 17 to prepare arguments supporting their motion to intervene in the case. Instead, Osteen gave them until noon Friday.
Osteen appears ready to strike down North Carolina's ban after issuing an order Wednesday lifting his stays and dismissing all prior motions. The GOP leaders are seeking to intervene after state Attorney General Roy Cooper concluded all possible legal defenses had been exhausted.
Updated 3:13 p.m.
RALEIGH — As same-sex couples in North Carolina awaited federal court rulings they hope will allow them to get married, Republican legislative leaders made a last-minute move Thursday to block or delay the nuptials.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger say they will file motions seeking to intervene in legal challenges to the state's gay marriage ban approved by voters in 2012. The GOP legislators have hired California lawyer John C. Eastman, chairman of the conservative National Organization for Marriage.
Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver said Eastman has agreed to forgo his first $10,000 in legal fees. After that, he will be paid $400 an hour.
American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina legal director Chris Brook criticized the move as a waste of taxpayer funds.
"The legislature has had more than a year to intervene in this matter if they felt their interests were not adequately represented, and failed to do so," said Brook, who represents nine same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry and adopt children. "The result here is no longer in doubt. ... The legislature should quit playing politics by seeking to defend the indefensible."
Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, said in a debate earlier this week he felt obligated to defend the will of North Carolina voters against "liberal activist judges" appointed by President Barack Obama.
The steady wave of recent rulings striking down gay marriage bans across the nation has been handed down by federal judges appointed by presidents from both parties. While North Carolina's prohibition remains popular with religiously conservative voters, recent polls show increasing support and acceptance for same-sex marriage.
Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. in Greensboro, an appointee of President George W. Bush, appears ready to strike down North Carolina's ban after issuing an order Wednesday lifting his stays and dismissing all motions in the two cases he oversees.
The ACLU has filed a request seeking a quick ruling from the judge after the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear appeals to lower court rulings striking down similar marriage bans in other states. Osteen has delayed making a decision since July, when Virginia's same-sex marriage ban was struck down by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. That court has jurisdiction over North Carolina and their decision is binding on Osteen.
In a third challenge filed by members of the clergy seeking to marry gay couples, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger in Asheville removed himself from the case, transferring it to District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr.
Tillis and Berger plan to file a motion to intervene in that case, as well.
"This threatened eleventh hour effort to intervene is strange, to say the least," said Jake Sussman, a Charlotte lawyer representing the religious groups. "We are close to the end of this litigation and ready to banish Amendment One to the dustpan of history. We believe this is an unnecessary use of taxpayer money and judicial resources and seeks only to delay the inevitable".
Tillis and Berger are currently not party to any of the lawsuits. They will need to file motions with Osteen and Cogburn seeking to intervene, while the judges would have to rule to give them standing.
While the legal maneuvering played out Thursday, scores of same sex couples across the state waited for word from the courts.
In an Asheville church, Diane Ansley, 55, and Cathy McGaughey, 54, practiced their wedding vows.
The couple of 15 years planned to dash to the nearby Buncombe County Register of Deeds office with their pastor in tow the moment they hear the state ban has been overturned to apply for a marriage license.
"Later on, we'll have a big party, a big celebration for our families and friends," McGaughey said.