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Press releases from ACLU of North Carolina and the Campaign for Southern Equality:

Federal lawsuits challenging NC’s ban on same-sex marriage underway

RICHMOND – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Monday declared that Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional. This marks the second time that an appellate-level court has ruled on state marriage bans following the dismantling of a key section of the federal “Defense of Marriage Act.”

The Fourth Circuit includes Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland, the only state in the circuit that allows same-sex couples to marry. The precedent from today’s ruling applies to all of these states.

“Today’s ruling sets a clear precedent for courts in North Carolina and is the most significant step to date toward securing the freedom to marry for all loving and committed couples in our state,” said Chris Brook, legal director for the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation.

“Though there is still much work that needs to be done, this ruling has given an enormous boost to our efforts to ensure that all loving and committed couples are able to have the security and dignity that comes only with marriage.”

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The ACLU and ACLU-NCLF have filed two federal lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples, both in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina in Greensboro. The first, Fisher-Borne et al. v. Smith, was filed in July 2013 as an amended complaint to a 2012 lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s ban on second parent adoptions on behalf of six families across the state headed by same-sex couples. On April 9, 2014, the ACLU filed a second federal lawsuit, Gerber and Berlin et al. v. Cooper, on behalf of three married, same-sex couples seeking state recognition of their marriages. Because of the serious medical condition of one member of each couple, they are asking the court to take swift action.

The ACLU had filed an amicus curiae, or “friend-of-the-court,” brief in the Bostic case before the Fourth Circuit on behalf of its North Carolina clients who are raising children. The brief highlights particular harms that North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples has on families and children, including denial of medical decision-making in an emergency, Social Security Insurance survivor benefits, the ability to provide children with quality health insurance of the non-legal parents, detrimental tax status and denial of veteran’s benefits, among others.

The ACLU has brought additional challenges against similar laws in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, Oregon, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Alabama and lawsuits seeking recognition of legal marriages in Michigan, Missouri, Florida, and Ohio. Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor v. U.S. – a case in which the ACLU represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to DOMA – the ACLU launched the Out for Freedom campaign to achieve the freedom to marry for same-sex couples across the country.


The following statements are from the Campaign for Southern Equality concerning the ruling in Bostic v. Schaefer:

“Today’s ruling is further proof that there is not a single valid legal argument to uphold Amendment One. It’s not a question of if Amendment One will be struck down, but when. Each day that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage remains on the books, families are harmed. The Campaign for Southern Equality will continue to call for swift action from the courts to overturn Amendment One, and for citizens and elected officials to take a stand against this discriminatory and immoral law,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality.

“Federal courts in recent months have made clear – emphatically and unequivocally – that it is unconstitutional for state governments to discriminate against loving and committed couples who want the benefits and security that marriage provides,” said Jacob Sussman, lead counsel for plaintiffs in General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper and partner at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen.

You can read the full Bostic v. Schaefer ruling at http://www.ca4.uscourts.gov/Opinions/Published/141167.P.pdf [PDF].

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In North Carolina, multiple federal challenges to Amendment One are working their way through the courts. The focus now returns to General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, a
federal legal challenge to North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage filed in the Western District of North Carolina. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include same-sex couples and four national religious denominations – the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the Central Conference of American Rabbis – in addition to Episcopalian, Jewish and Baptist clergy from across North Carolina. Plaintiffs are seeking a preliminary injunction in the case and are represented by the law firms of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and Arnold & Porter LLP.

Angie Newsome

Angie Newsome is the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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