Exile on Jones Street: We’ve only just begun

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

What a waste. Perfectly good state, mired in recession, begging for new leadership and the new guys come in and launch one of the most divisive endeavors in recent memory, putting the rights of some “others” up for a vote. That’s not going to go down well in the history books. Pissing in the wind never does.

Anyway, federal appeals courts in five states have shot amendments and laws like it all to hell. Then on Monday the Supreme Court denied seven petitions from those cases seeking the intervention of the highest court of the land.

The cases were a part a long list released by the court mid-morning with scores of similar denials. The effect took a little while to sink in, reminding us that, well, legal reporting is hard. Easier to concentrate on ebola-toting terrorists.

Once the full weight of the high court’s “no thanks” was measured, and the winners and losers sorted out their next action, it became clear that the decision was just as powerful, perhaps even more so, as a 5-4 sometime next year.

Later Monday morning, the attorney general of Virginia, where three of the seven cases were based, issued a statement saying same-sex couples could begin marrying in the state after 1 p.m.

He also listed the rights that same-sex couples in the state of Virginia are entitled to, including adoption, making medical decisions for their  spouses, access to employee family benefits, even joint tax returns.

That the effect would be so immediate was almost as big a shock as the court not taking up the issue.

Although the cases had resulted in federal courts striking down the states’ bans, those decisions had been stayed while the justices sorted things out. The orders granting the stays included language stating they would automatically expire in the event the Supreme Court denies the petition to hear the case.

And not only were the states in question clipped of their bans on same-sex marriage, but the similar bans in states in the same circuits were sure to fall as well.

As reaction rolled in and couples lined up at courthouses in Virginia, the midday news contained a stunning fact of change. When the sun rose on Monday morning same-sex marriage was legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, now the count was at 24 and moving very quickly to 30, including North Carolina.

We already know how the story ends, but how we get there is not entirely certain. We do know it will be heavy with politics. There’s no avoiding that.

Late Monday afternoon, the speaker of the state House, who is running for US Senate, and the state Senate president pro tem, who seems perfectly happy being the most powerful person in the state, said they would “formally intervene” to defend the constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. Citing the amendment’s margin of victory in the May 2012, referendum, the two said they’ll defend the law until the Supreme Court rules definitively.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s statement was somewhat softer saying he disagreed with the ruling but added, “We will respect the legal process as it proceeds.”

That shows at least a little more insight into the legal system than his legislative counterparts who are likely to ring up even higher legal bills hiring outside counsel. Attorney General Roy Cooper, who did not personally support the amendment, gave up defending it after the original ruling in the Virginia cases earlier this year.

The ACLU of North Carolina, which filed two cases challenging North Carolina’s ban, wasted little time after the ruling stating their intent to swing wide the gate here.

In Greensboro, US District Judge William Osteen started that process in motion issuing an order Monday giving both sides in the North Carolina cases ten days to file their arguments on the impact of the Supreme Court’s decision. Osteen said the Virginia ruling applied throughout the 4th Circuit and noted the similarities between North Carolina’s constitutional amendment and Virginia’s.

Courthouses across the state are starting to gear up for what happens after. Meanwhile, the people who pushed that awful, unconstitutional amendment on us are a little aghast that it unraveled so quickly.

The speaker, you might recall, said it was inevitable but would likely take 20 years.

More like two years and some change.

Make that a lot of change.

Good luck all you lovebirds.

Be good to each other.