Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, it was clear that marriage equality was on its way throughout our land. It really wasn’t a matter of if, but when. And I’m really proud of the role that Asheville and Buncombe County have played in helping to overturn North Carolina’s Amendment One and bring marriage equality to our state.
Sensing the time had finally come, last spring Asheville-based Campaign for Southern Equality, led by Executive Director Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, worked with a team of outstanding lawyers to file a federal legal challenge to Amendment One and North Carolina marriage laws banning same-sex marriage. In April, General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper was filed on behalf of clergy from across faith traditions, same-sex couples and four national religious denominations, a challenge calling for same-sex couples to have the freedom to marry and for clergy to be able to legally perform such marriages in North Carolina.
As many expected, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in July, creating a precedent for Maryland (which already had marriage equality), West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Then on Oct. 6, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down appeals from Virginia and four other states that were seeking to preserve their same-sex marriage bans, leaving the Fourth Circuit Court ruling in place.
On Friday, Oct. 10, Federal Judge Max O. Cogburn Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (based in Asheville), ruled on General Synod of the United Church of Christ vs. Cooper and struck down Amendment One, ordering North Carolina to begin recognizing same-sex marriages immediately. On Monday, Oct. 13, another federal judge in North Carolina ruled in two cases from the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of N.C. confirming marriage equality in our state.
Since Judge Cogburn’s decision came late on Friday afternoon, Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger sought and received permission to keep the Register of Deeds office open late to issue marriage licenses to those who could legally obtain them for the first time. Thus, the first marriage license to a same-sex couple in North Carolina was granted in Buncombe County, and, immediately thereafter, the first legal same-sex marriage took place on the steps of the county office building that houses the Register of Deeds office. Since then, hundreds of same-sex couples have received marriage licenses throughout North Carolina, and the marriages of same-sex couples who were wed out-of-state are now recognized by all levels of state government.
To cap off a week of historic significance for justice and equality, members of the Asheville City Council voted unanimously to hang a huge rainbow flag from Asheville City Hall during the week of Oct. 6 in recognition of the momentous events that were unfolding.
It is impossible to put this genie back in the bottle. In 30 states, including North Carolina, same-sex couples now have the freedom to marry. That number will only increase in the months and years to come until marriage equality is the law of the land in the United States of America. To paraphrase a well-known quotation, the arc of history may be long, but it always bends toward justice.
This post was published in the October 26, 2014 edition of the Asheville Citizen-Times.