CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper and several other state defendants filed an official response to the latest lawsuit over marriage equality in the state on Tuesday, arguing the court should deny gay couples’ motion for immediate relief.
In late April, the United Church of Christ and several other plaintiffs filed the latest of four separate lawsuits challenging North Carolina’s anti-LGBT constitutional amendment on marriage. In the suit, the church and several couples argued the discriminatory law infringed upon both clergies’ and couples’ First Amendment guarantees of religious liberty. Attorneys in the case asked for immediate relief and a preliminary injunction preventing the state from enforcing the amendment.
On Tuesday, Cooper’s office argued against the preliminary injunction, saying the state’s interest in defending the law outweighed the couples’ needs for immediate relief. Cooper also officially asked for a stay in all proceedings until the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on a similar case in Virginia, Bostic v. Schaefer.
“This motion, in addition to the other proceedings in this matter, should be stayed,” Cooper’s Tuesday filing reads. “In the alternative, the motion for preliminary injunction should be denied because the injunction sought by Plaintiffs will significantly alter the status quo. Further, a preliminary injunction in this matter would be premature given the possibility that it could be soon overruled, modified, lifted or remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Fourth Circuit’s impending opinion in Bostic.”
Cooper has said he personally supports marriage equality, but will continue to defend the state’s laws consistent with his constitutional duties as attorney general.
Attorneys for the United Church of Christ and several couples say Cooper’s Tuesday filing ignores the “immediate and irreparable harms that discriminatory marriage laws inflict upon same-sex couples and clergy every day that these laws remain in effect,” according to a statement released late Tuesday evening.
Cooper’s position, the statement said, essentially argues that “the State’s interest in following the law as written outweighs the Plaintiffs’ interest in obtaining immediate relief from these discriminatory laws.”
“The State fails to acknowledge the harm suffered by the plaintiff couples — a harm recognized by every court that has considered the issue since Windsor,” Jacob Sussman, an attorney at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, and lead counsel in the case, said in the statement, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark June 2013 ruling overturning portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “We are sorely disappointed that the State of North Carolina continues to deny equal rights to all of its citizens. Fifteen 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.”
Two elder plaintiffs in the case, Carol Taylor and Betty Mack, also spoke out. Together since 1973, the couple said North Carolina’s anti-LGBT amendment prevents them from marrying when they need marriage protections the most.
“When you’re in your 70’s you don’t feel as if you have a lot of time left,” Mack said in the statement. “We would really like to be married in North Carolina and become legitimate in the eyes of this state as we would be in many others.”
The United Church of Christ’s suit includes four same-sex couples challenging North Carolina’ anti-LGBT amendment and other laws, which make it illegal for clergy to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples. Several other faith groups — including the Alliance of Baptists, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as several clergy from Episcopal, Jewish and Baptist faith traditions — have also joined the suit. They are represented by Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and Arnold & Porter LLP.
The court is expected to respond by June 23 to the plaintiffs’ original motion for immediate relief and Cooper’s filing on Tuesday.