Amy Cantrell and Lauren White are married outside the Buncombe County Register of Deeds office on Friday evening by the Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper. Cantrell and White were among the first same-sex couples in North Carolina to receive legal marriage licenses and legally wed. Photo Credit: Campaign for Southern Equality.

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A federal judge in North Carolina’s Western District issued an order late Friday afternoon striking down the state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment. The order permanently prohibiting the state in a United Church of Christ lawsuit from enforcing the ban. Additionally, the judge denied Republican state leaders’ motion to intervene in the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., issued his two orders shortly after 5 p.m.

“Defendants are PERMANENTLY ENJOINED from enforcing such laws to the extent these laws prohibit a person from marrying another person of the same gender, prohibit recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully solemnized in other States, Territories, or a District of the United States, or seek to punish in any way clergy or other officiants who solemnize the union of same-sex couples,” Cogburn wrote.

Cogburn also directly addressed the flurry of legal filings in the case before him and others, noting that the rule of law — not political or moral agendas — take precedent.

“The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue,” Cogburn wrote. “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.”

Wake County’s and Buncombe County’s registers of deeds offices have remained open late and are issuing marriage licenses. Reports from Wake County, where the register of deeds office is staying open until 9 p.m., indicate that dozens of same-sex couples have already wed. Marriages are also being performed in Asheville.

Equality North Carolina praised the decision to open marriage to same-sex couples.

“Today’s ruling allowing loving, same-sex couples to marry across North Carolina is a historic moment for our state,” said Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina. “With it, we celebrate with so many North Carolinians who have worked tirelessly over decades to change hearts, minds, and unequal laws in the state we call home. Love won and the barriers to it are done.”

A crowd of couples and supporters had gathered at the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office all day Friday, though most had left after a federal judge in Greensboro issued orders punting his two cases into early next week.

But, Charlotte couple Joey Hewell, 34, and Scott Lindsley, 45, remained at the Mecklenburg office and joined supporters and advocates in celebrating the news from Judge Cogburn.

Hewell and Lindsley weren’t able to receive their license on Friday, Cogburn’s order coming after Mecklenburg Register J. David Granberry closed his office. On Wednesday, the two had been allowed to submit a marriage license application shortly before the office closed. Granberry told the couple his office will open again on Monday morning, when he’ll finally able to complete and process their application today.

Mecklenburg will grant licenses on Monday

The Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds office closed as normal at 5 p.m. on Friday evening. The county, however, issued a statement shortly thereafter announcing they would begin issuing licenses to all couples on Monday at 8 a.m.

Mecklenburg County is encouraging couples to file their application online before coming to the office to complete the process.

“It is strongly recommended that applicants take advantage of the online application to reduce office processing time,” the county said.

The statement continued: “The application includes a disclaimer page. Residents should simply click ‘agree’ to go directly to the license page. Couples are instructed to ignore gender references on the online application. The printed versions of the license in the office will refer to the couple as Applicant 1 and Applicant 2.”

Conservatives vow to fight

Those opposed to same-sex marriage were not pleased with Cogburn’s order on Friday.

Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger issued a joint statement on Friday and said they’ll continue to fight to uphold the ban.

“While we recognize the tremendous passion on all sides of this issue, we promised to defend the will of North Carolina voters, because they – not judges and not politicians – define marriage as between one man and one woman and placed that in our state constitution,” the statement read, according to WRAL.

Tillis and Berger added: “It is disappointing this decision was made without North Carolina’s law receiving its day in court, and we will continue to work to ensure the voice of the voters is heard.”

The North Carolina Values Coalition, the primary proponent of North Carolina’s anti-LGBT amendment in 2012, issued a scathing statement after 9 p.m. on Friday. The group called Cogburn an “activist judge” who overrode “the will of the people.”

“We take heart in knowing that marriage – that defined by God – can never truly be redefined,” said Tami Fitzgerald, the group’s director.

Religious leaders, too, objected to the legal developments.

“We come from a Christian world view and a Christian world view is that God designed marriage as between a man and a woman and He gets to define it no matter what the Supreme Court thinks,” Dr. Richard Land, the president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews, told NBC Charlotte.

“When I was a teenager homosexual behavior was illegal much less homosexual marriage,” said Land, who long worked for the Southern Baptist Convention. “Most of our involvement has been the result of courts trying to alter the social equation.”

McCrory: State complying with order

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has said his administration will comply with Cogburn’s order.

“The administration is moving forward with the execution of the court’s ruling and will continue to do so unless otherwise notified by the courts,” he said. “Each agency will work through the implications of the court’s ruling regarding its operations.”

Even as McCrory and state government moves forward, the legal fight over the amendment could continue.

Greensboro U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen will still consider additional briefs to be submitted Monday in two related cases.

Ruling from Cogburn unexpected

Cogburn’s order on Friday came as a surprise to observers, who had been focused on two cases in North Carolina’s Middle District. That judge has given plaintiffs until Monday to respond to several questions.

Cogburn issued his order just minutes after most thought a ruling opening legal marriage wouldn’t be issued until Monday or Tuesday.

The late-breaking order came even after Tillis and Berger attempted to intervene in the case, including a request for an eight-day extension in the case. Cogburn denied their motions, submitted by attorneys with connections to the anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage — the same group which contributed more than $400,000 to the 2012 campaign to successfully pass the anti-gay marriage ban.

In denying the GOP’s intervention request, Cogburn also rejected GOP arguments that North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper had failed to adequately represent the state.

“Based on a full consideration of all the factors, the court finds that the proposed intervenors’ interests are, have been, and continue to be adequately represented by the North Carolina Attorney General,” Cogburn wrote.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday had declined to hear an appeal from the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and several others, essentially paving the way for legal same-sex marriages in North Carolina. In July, the Fourth Circuit overturned Virginia’s similar ban. All legal experts — including North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper — have said the Fourth Circuit’s decision is binding on North Carolina.

Couples and LGBT community members in Charlotte have planned on celebrating the victory at an interfaith service on Monday evening. Several plaintiffs from the United Church of Christ’s and other clergy members’ suit against the amendment are expected to attend. The service is slated for 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 13 at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1900 The Plaza.

Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds J. David Granberry explains the marriage ruling and says his office will reopen Monday morning to accept legal marriage applications from same-sex couples.
Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds J. David Granberry explains the marriage ruling and says his office will reopen Monday morning to accept legal marriage applications from same-sex couples.

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Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.

26 replies on “Judge overturns anti-LGBT amendment in North Carolina”

  1. Interesting – so Charlotte and Asheville will be issuing marriage licenses early Monday morning and the rest of the state may have to wait till Monday afternoon.

  2. We want to congratulate all of the parties involved and those who worked hard to make this happen! In addition, many thanks to Matt Comer who worked tirelessly through this hurricane of events and confusion with concise and timely updates. Hats off to you!

  3. Great news that NC has finally regained some dignity by offering marriage equality to all! Too bad we’re stuck with these two camera hams as the face of gay marriage in Charlotte. ;-)

  4. I was grinning like a dingus reading the first half, then somewhere along the line I became incredibly emotional; it hit me. We’re finally moving forward. I have nothing but respect and gratitude for everyone who worked to make this possible. Thank you so much. I feel almost a sense of pride now living here. Amendment One, you will surely not be missed.

  5. people should be able to marry whom ever they want any where. The thing that bothers me the most about this story is again the people spoke last year in a vote and a judge gets to over turn it, so why have the people vote if it means absolutely nothing?

    1. “…why should the people vote if it means absolutely nothing?”

      Because it is entirely possible for misinformed voters, even a majority, to get it wrong. Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups.

    2. People shouldn’t be allowed to vote on “rights” — that’s why, by and large, these amendments have been overturned by judges. You wouldn’t want a majority of voters (the will of the people!) to, for instance, vote that people with blonde hair no longer deserve to have freedom of speech would you?

  6. “so why have the people vote if it means absolutely nothing?”

    True Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.

    Just because the majority said something doesn’t mean they’re right.

    1. You can vote until you are blue in the face and have turned every tree into paper. If you pass a law that is UNCONSTITUTIONAL it can’t be enforced. It can’t be written as a law, because it isn’t a law. All states swore to uphold Federal Law as the law of the land. State laws can be passed, but if challenged and deemed UNCONSTITUTIONAL, it means it goes against how the judges determined what the constitution and the people that wrote it meant. Had they been here today is this how they would have wanted it interpreted. Right now, unless you can prove that it damages your marriage in some tangible provable way, and damages others as well in the same way. You have no way to force them to hear the case. So far, the only thing that is brought up is religious (which can’t be used as a group of ministers have joined demanding their religion allows Same Sex Marriage, and preventing this discriminates against their beliefs), moral (everyone has what they believe is moral and this changes from geographic location and time period you are looking at), reproduction (you can’t use that without forbidding infertile, post-menopausal women, or people that just don’t wont to procreate but get married). It is against Natural Law (homosexuality and bisexuality and even some fish have the ability to change their gender back and forth from male and female. Male Penguins have been shown to bond as a mated pair and steal or catch an egg that gets away from the biological parent and share the responsibility in raising the chick as the original couple). You can’t prove damages, and you certainly can’t use all the defenses that have already been used and struck down. Voting is a right, but not when it attempts to pass a law that infringes on another persons rights. Get it now? If not, I know of no easier way to explain it.

      1. Though im not gay and find times I can’t handle the idea of homosexually. Mainly because I could never be and can’t understand the mentality, if it is a mentaility. I know that it is immoral to force your will on another. Freedom, is not freedom if it does not apply to everyone. If it does not harm you or another what a person does is none of your concern. Concern yourself with yourself. No laws should ever restrict a person personal life. Allow a person to be themselves, and you fix yourself. If you had more happy and pleasant lives you wouldn’t feel the need to live other peoples lives. Anger is a path to self destruction. Love and understanding is the way happiness. For my religious friends it’s what jesus is trying to preach. Let the perfect man with no flaws pass judgement. One does not exist so don’t place yourself above another till you have walked there shoes.

  7. Now, too see them make babies together. When that is accomplished I will change my mind on the entire situation. It’s not safe nor does it contribute to human life span at all. If all there were was gays in the world all humans would die…of course without the interception of man. I am talking about straight up being able to marry and make a family, just the two of you. Not the two of you and the mail man’s sperm:)

    1. So infertile men and women shouldn’t get married? Brilliant logic. People should be able to love whoever they choose and they should be able to have the same benefits everyone else gets for that marriage.

    2. If all the straight couples in the world adopted all of the parentless children in the world, you might have a shred of a point. But there is more to marriage than just procreation.

      1. Clearly you’ve missed my point OR completely twisted my words. Either way, my opinion is my opinion. You’re allowed to voice your opinion AND FOR NOW I still have the right to voice mine, until big gov’t takes that away one day too. Like I was stating, a man and a man or a woman and a woman could never lay down together and make a baby…period! It’s impossible!!! Gotta ask yourself why that is. Because we are not designed that way.

    3. So all those people who are infertile or past childbearing age or just don’t want children shouldn’t be allowed to marry either.

      Nice to know I should die alone then. Pesky nonworking ovaries.

      1. To grow too old to bare children is natural for same sex to make a baby is not…one can happen by the design of God the other cannot.

    4. Marriage is not about making babies. Humans have been doing that without the benefit of marriage long before there was such a thing and continue to do so. Religious marriage is about the union of two souls. State marriage is about the legal benefits of such a union.

      While I believe that children benefit from a two parent household, I hold nothing against single parents, In fact, I have huge respect for single parents. But there is nothing to say that two moms or two dads can’t be just just as good.

  8. The aggressive anti-gay “Christians” in North Carolina are not God, do not represent God and do not speak for God. Nor do they speak for millions of decent, patriotic Christians around America who reject their sinful effort to redefine discrimination as a “sincerely held religious belief.”

  9. It does not matter what you or I say about the defining of marriage. It does matter what God says. He says that marriage is between a man and a woman. Homosexuality is sin as any other sin and leads to death. The United States is inviting the judgement of God with the path it is taking. Unless repentance comes in this nation, the United States will fall, and sooner than you think.

    1. Doesn’t that same passage in Leviticus also condemn shellfish, long sideburns and mixed fiber clothing. You are confusing the word of God with the inventions of man.

  10. This is the most awesome news I’ve heard in a long time. I never thought this would happen in NC, at least not any time soon. As a heterosexual I’ve been able to get married and all my homosexual peers should be able to do the same. Equal rights for all! Congratulations to you all!!! :D

  11. i don’t agree to it but I will not bash other people just bc they make a choice. Reason being I don’t have to answer for anything they do just the things I do. I do how ever believe that slowly we are tearing down the foundation that our four fathers built this country on, but agian I’m not responsible for that as well.

  12. Religious followers… You are provided the right to follow any religion you like… that’s the beauty of our free American society. You are also given the protection to not be persecuted for following your beliefs, nor forced to follow any specific religion. Does “separation of church and state” ring a bell? Many of the early settlers and ultimate writers of our constitution came here and defined our new world, risking persecution themselves, to ensure the freedoms for future generations.

    Do you really want to live in a country where the government requires that you follow a specific religion, and follow that religion according to its interpretation? There are some countries in the middle east that might interest you.

    Stand up for Human Rights! Protect the right to follow your religious beliefs, but do not force any specific interpretation of those beliefs. Right?

    It’s a good day for NC, I’m proud to say!

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