A federal judge on Friday struck down
North Carolina's ban on gay marriage.
In his three-page decision issued
shortly after 5 PM, U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. said
the state's ban, known as Amendment One and approved by voters in
2012, is unconstitutional. Cogburn cited the Fourth Circuit Court of
Appeals ruling striking down Virginia's ban.
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to
hear an appeal in the case challenging Virginia's ban, allowing the
lower court's order to stand. The Fourth Circuit has jurisdiction
over Virginia and North Carolina. South Carolina and West Virginia
are similarly affected.
“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.”
Dozens of gay couples who had gathered
at clerks' offices in anticipation of a ruling began exchanging vows
moments after Cogburn ruled.
The first couple to get hitched in
Buncombe County were Amy Cantrell, 42, and Lauren White, 29
(pictured). The women, together 8 years, are raising 8-month-old
twins Myla and Eleecia.
“We've been waiting for this day for
years,” Cantrell said.
Cogburn denied a request by GOP leaders
at the state legislature to intervene in the case.
Governor Pat McCrory's office said late
Friday that his administration would comply with the order.
The Cleveland, Ohio-based United Church
of Christ (UCC) filed the lawsuit in which Cogburn ruled in March.
The plaintiffs, which also include
several gay couples who wish to marry, argued that the state's ban
violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It is the
only case challenging state marriage bans to bring First Amendment
religious freedom claims.