As the Southern Editor it would be remiss of me not to mention that yesterday evening U.S. District Judge Max Cogburn struck down North Carolina’s ban on gay marriage, opening up the county offices to begin issuing marriage licenses immediately. North Carolina’s marriage ban was somewhat unique in that it was a product of Amendment One, a ballot-initiative that called for a state constitutional amendment confirming that marriage was between only a man and a woman and that any same sex marriage or civil union was unconstitutional. It was voted into law in 2012 by a 61 percent margin, but with only a 32 percent voter turnout in a primary election period. I know personally when Amendment One appeared on the ballot, there was a general conversation in North Carolina over whether people should vote “yes” or “no” to the Amendment if they believed gay marriage should become legal. (The standing law already made it illegal.) All this to say that perhaps the wording on the ballot was confusing.
Earlier this year the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled on a case in Virginia that the banning of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. The 4th Circuit Court covers five states, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and is the highest court for those jurisdictions. The only court that can overturn a decision made by the 4th Circuit is the Supreme Court. As we heard on Monday, the Supreme Court refused to intervene in a number of lower court cases repealing bans on gay marriage, leaving in place and putting into action the 4th Circuit’s decision that a ban on same sex marriage is unconstitutional. This means that lower courts in states under the 4th Circuit jurisdiction must follow the higher courts decision. Here we are today, in North Carolina, having gone overnight from having a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, to cutting wedding cakes in the county deeds offices with marriage licenses in the hands of same sex couples.
Judge Cogburn wrote:
The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue. It is a legal issue and it is clear as a matter of what is now settled law in the Fourth Circuit that North Carolina laws prohibiting same sex marriage, refusing to recognize same sex marriages originating elsewhere, and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.
There is a different feeling in North Carolina already. When someone ran into the restaurant last night shouting “Gay marriage is legal in North Carolina,” people began to express a pride in their state that I had not experienced since I have been here. Sure, I have seen a “Southern Pride,” a food pride, a weather pride, but never a political pride, a “we are an all-inclusive state” pride. I can’t help but wonder what effect this rising tide will have on the upcoming election.