CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The decision by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring not to defend his state’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on marriage has sparked a wave of controversy and shed a spotlight on efforts to rollback a similar ban in North Carolina.
On Jan. 23, Herring announced he would not defend the state in a federal lawsuit seeking to declare unconstitutional Virginia’s ban on marriage equality. Republican lawmakers there want to empower the legislature to step in to defend the state.
The same has already happened in North Carolina, where the GOP-controlled legislature and governor have already hired counsel to defend the state in several lawsuits. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has come out in favor of marriage equality, but says his office will still defend the state.
“[W]hen legal arguments exist to defend a law, it is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General under North Carolina law to make those arguments in court,” Cooper said in a statement.
That’s not good enough, says Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality. Her organization is calling on Cooper to make a move similar to Herring’s.
“I am hopeful that N.C. Attorney General Cooper will take the same course of action as Virginia Attorney General Herring and choose not to defend Amendment One, an unjust law that will ultimately be ruled unconstitutional,” Beach-Ferrara said in a statement. “Every day that Amendment One remains on the books, same-sex families in North Carolina are harmed because they are denied fundamental rights and protections. We’re calling for full rights and protections under the law immediately for LGBT people. Patience ceases to be a virtue when people are suffering.”
Equality North Carolina Executive Director Chris Sgro said the advancement in Virginia is yet another sign in a determined shift in public opinion.
“I think it’s the next step in a national wave of elected officials and judges across the country realizing what we’ve known for years, which is that differentiating between LGBT couples and straight couples for the purposes of marriage is wrong and unconstitutional,” Sgro said.
Equality NC hasn’t gone as far as the Campaign for Southern Equality, but Sgro thinks the message is clear.
“I have to think it won’t be lost on officials throughout North Carolina what’s happened in a state immediately to our North and in some ways very similar to North Carolina,” Sgro said.
Cooper and his staff, Sgro added, will likely take another look at their role in an ongoing lawsuit here. The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina is currently challenging the state’s anti-LGBT amendment and second-parent adoption ban in a Greensboro federal court.
Sgro said his group is preparing for an eventual victory. The marriage equality movement is now racking up successes, not only in more traditionally liberal states, but in red, conservative states, too. Recent advancements in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia will undoubtedly have an effect in the Tar Heel State.
“I’m heartened by a number of things for the South and for the movement here,” Sgro said. “I’m heartened by what we’ve seen at the judicial level and the fact this seems to be a relative tidal wave. I think this is a trend that will continue.”
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