Ban on gay marriage struck down in North Carolina

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Brad Newton (left) and Frank Brooks celebrate their marriage.
Brad Newton (left) and Frank Brooks celebrate their marriage.

A federal judge in Asheville today ruled that North Carolina’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

US District Court Judge Max Cogburn ruled that any section of the North Carolina constitution or provision of state law that “prohibits recognition of same-sex-marriages lawfully solemnized in other states, territories, or a district of the United States, or threatens clergy or other officiants who solemnize the union of same-sex couples with civil or criminal penalties, are… unconstitutional as they violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

The judge noted that there have been a number of last-minute filings attempting to prevent the ban from being lifted.

“The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue,” Cogburn said. “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 marriage originating elsewhere, and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.”

Frank Brooks and his partner, Brad Newton, had been waiting outside the Guilford County Register of Deeds Office for three days, anticipating the decision. With no decision from US District Court Judge William Osteen in Greensboro, they left feeling disappointed.

“We went home kind of defeated, walked the dogs, went in the backyard and cracked a beer with the dogs,” said Brooks, who is a realtor in Greensboro. “Just then our phones exploded with the news that the judge in Asheville had struck down Amendment One.”

Brooks said he immediately called Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen.

“He said, ‘I’m scrambling to get together my staff so we can get some people married,'” Brooks said. Thigpen has agreed to keep the register of deeds office open until 8 p.m. tonigh.

Brooks and Newton were waiting for their marriage certificate, and expected to be the first same-sex couple married in Guilford County.

“This is a historic day for freedom and equality in North Carolina,” said Jennifer Rudinger, executive director of the ACLU of North Carolina. “Thousands of North Carolinians are now able to marry the person they love and receive the dignity and legal security that comes with having that marriage recognized in their home state. For countless couples and their children, this victory is nothing short of life changing.”

Ellen “Lennie” Gerber, along with her spouse, Pearl Berlin, was one of the ACLU plaintiffs against the state prohibition against same-sex marriage.

“Our joy and excitement is boundless,” Gerber said. “We’ve been together for 48 years and are so happy that our love and commitment will now finally be recognized in the state we call home.”