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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Like a child preparing for a middle school field trip, one register of deeds in a North Carolina county said over the weekend that he wanted specific permission before moving forward with same-sex marriage licenses on Monday.
Iredell County Register of Deeds Matt McCall told the Statesville Record & Landmark on Saturday that he’ll hold off on issuing licenses on Monday until he can speak to County Attorney Bill Pope, despite a judge’s order on Friday striking down the state’s anti-LGBT marriage ban.
“I’m sworn to uphold both the state and federal constitution,” McCall told the paper. “I really don’t think without having official notice or without having something from the state or a court order, I don’t think I can move forward without speaking to the county attorney to make sure I’m not exposing the county to any liability.”
McCall says U.S. District Court Judge Max Cogburn’s court order might not cover Iredell County, since Cogburn is based in North Carolina’s Western District. Iredell is in the state’s middle district, where another federal judge will continue reviewing two similar lawsuits on Monday afternoon.
“There’s a lot of confusion,” McCall said. “And that’s why I’m waiting for official notice.”
McCall added: “Given the gravity of the situation, surely Mr. Cooper or the court system will notify the one hundred Register of Deeds across the state that the state constitution has been overturned.”
McCall’s special permission slip came late Sunday evening, hours before same-sex couples lined up at registers of deeds offices across the state, in an email to all 100 county registers of deeds from officials at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service.
McCall said he wanted to wait for special notice because of the 73 percent of voters in in Iredell County who voted for the state’s anti-gay ban in 2012.
“When something passes by a three-to-one margin, you want to make sure their voices are heard,” McCall told the Statesville Record & Landmark Monday morning.
“I will be issuing marriage licenses to all applicants,” McCall said after receiving the health department email. “This is the confirmation I’ve been waiting for.”
McCall, a Republican, also took to Twitter over the weekend, mocking the coming nuptials for same-sex couples.
“So I guess the attorneys of NC of will be extra happy tomorrow? More potential divorce clients,” McCall said in a tweet on Sunday.
As of Monday afternoon, no same-sex couples had applied for marriage licenses in Iredell County, according to an employee at the Statesville office.
No confusion say state officials, advocates
Despite McCall’s confusion over the weekend, everyone else in the state seemed to be on the same page. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office has already publicly stated that Cogburn’s ruling applies statewide. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, too, said on Friday that his “administration is moving forward with the execution of the court’s ruling and will continue to do so unless otherwise notified by the courts.”
Chris Sgro, executive director of the statewide LGBT advocacy group Equality North Carolina, on Sunday afternoon said there was no more debate to be had on the issue.
“This is not a matter of opinion. This is a matter of legal fact,” Sgro said. “Judge Cogburn’s order enjoined the state of North Carolina. Amendment One is unconstitutional and effective immediately it can no longer be enforced. Immediately, same-sex marriage is a constitutional right.”
Sgro also bluntly challenged McCall to buck the law — and said the consequences would be the loss of McColl’s job.
“Mr. McCall is subject to removal from office if come Monday morning he denies marriage licenses and we will work with our partners to ensure that happens if he tries to stand in the way of loving same-sex couples’ constitutional rights.”