On Oct. 10 and Oct. 14, two federal judges – one appointed by a Democratic president, one appointed by a Republican president – handed down rulings that declared North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. The decisions by U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn and U.S. District Judge William Osteen, Jr., respectively, were the latest in a long and still growing series of federal court rulings to agree that state bans on marriage for same-sex couples violate those couples’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
News that the state’s discriminatory marriage ban had been struck down ushered in celebrations, tears of joy, and hundreds of wedding ceremonies across the state. For thousands of North Carolina families headed by same-sex couples, the dignity and legal security that comes from now having the freedom to marry the person the love in the state they call home is nothing short of life-changing.
In the words of High Point resident Ellen “Lennie” Gerber, who has been in a committed relationship with her spouse, Pearl Berlin, for 48 years, “Our joy and excitement are boundless.” Lennie and Pearl were lead plaintiffs in one of the court cases challenging North Carolina’s marriage ban.
The freedom to marry allows same-sex couples to extend the legal protections that come with marriage to their families. Health insurance coverage can be extended to spouses and children. Spouses can make health care decisions for one another, as well as their kids, in emergencies. And, in stark contrast to the law under North Carolina’s marriage ban, both same-sex spouses can form a legal relationship with their children through the step-parent adoption process. No longer will these families have to live with the unimaginable fear that, had something tragic happened to the legally recognized parent, a child could have been taken from the only home they have ever known.
Gov. Pat McCrory has promised to honor the freedom to marry as the law of the land in North Carolina. Unfortunately, House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger are seeking to un-ring these wedding bells by appealing the rulings. Setting aside the fact that doing so would harm countless families throughout North Carolina, these appeals are frivolous as a matter of law and will result in nothing more than an unnecessary waste of precious taxpayer dollars. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals – which governs North Carolina’s federal courts – has already struck down Virginia’s “indistinguishable” marriage ban, and the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 6 declined to review that ruling. The courts have spoken with near unanimity in striking down state marriage bans across the country as they rush to catch up to public opinion, which has moved decisively in favor of the freedom to marry in recent years.
Ultimately, same-sex couples want to marry for the same reasons that everyone else does: to make a public declaration of their love and commitment to each other, and to provide legal and financial security for their families. North Carolina lives up to its best traditions when we honor these couples’ commitment to one another. Regardless of our legislature’s misguided appeals, North Carolinians can rest assured: the freedom to marry is here to stay.
Chris Brook is the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Unions of North Carolina.