NC county official seeks approval for granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples

Today, the Buncombe County Register of Deeds in North Carolina, Drew Reisinger, began accepting applications from same-sex couples for marriage licenses, saying that he would formally request approval for granting the licenses from the NC Attorney General. It is the first time since the June 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down the central part of DOMA that marriage license applications have been accepted in North Carolina. The news demonstrates that all across the country, including in southern states, government officials understand that denying the freedom to marry to same-sex couples is wrong. 

The decision from Reisinger was prompted by an action from the NC-based Campaign for Southern Equality, which mobilizes same-sex coupless in the South to apply for marriage licenses and provoke denials to demonstrate what marriage discrimination looks like when it is enforced. The organization has taken a more aggressive role in recent months, urging elected officials to speak out in support of the freedom to marry and explain that they would not like to enforce laws restricting marriage to different-sex couples. 

Yesterday, the Campaign for Southern Equality submitted a letter to Reisinger explaining that six same-sex couples would be applying for marriage licenses in Buncombe County today, October 15. The couples include Brenda and Carol, who have been together for 25 years and have raised two children in North Carolina. 

He replied with a statement last night:

“I will let each couple know that it is my hope to grant them a license, but I need to seek the North Carolina Attorney General’s approval," Reisinger said. "I have concerns about whether we are violating people's civil rights based on this summer's Supreme Court decision. 

The Campaign for Southern Equality notified Reisinger that at least six same-sex couples would request marriage licenses Tuesday. Reisinger will allow the couples to complete and sign their applications. He will accept the applications but withhold his own signature. 

“I will then let the Attorney General know that I would like to issue these couples licenses, but that I need his clarification on the laws of the state that seem to contradict the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution,” Reisinger said.

The action comes on the heels of a statement from North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper stating that he supports the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. Yesterday, he voiced his support for marriage but also added that his perspective would not stop him from defending Amendment One in North Carolina, the constitutional amendment passed in May 2012 that prevents same-sex couples from marrying or seeking any form of family status. 

One marriage lawsuit, the American Civil Liberties Union's Fisher-Borne v. Smith, has been filed in North Carolina on behalf of same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry and the right to obtain second-parent adoptions. AG Cooper explained that he would defend Amendment One in this lawsuit.

The Attorney General's office also responded to Reisinger's comments about marriage in Buncombe County, reiterating that the discriminatory Amendment One is law in North Carolina. His representatives explained, "The State Constitution says that these marriage licenses cannot be issued, and this is the law unless the Constitution is changed or the court says otherwise. This very issue is the subject of pending litigation against the State of North Carolina."

The Campaign for Southern Equality's Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara spoke out today about why marriage matters and applauded Reisinger on his corageous advocacy. She said:

There are neither moral nor legal grounds to justify Amendment One, and it’s time for citizens and elected officials to act with conviction and urgency to change it. Mr. Reisinger’s actions are another step forward in the path to full equality for LGBT people. Attorney General Cooper, who has just announced his support for marriage equality, can choose not to defend Amendment One, as has happened in other states with similar laws. Until this law changes, we will continue to stand with same-sex couples across North Carolina as they ask their local Register of Deeds to issue marriage licenses as an act of conscience.

Learn more about the Campaign for Southern Equality HERE, and read about the freedom to marry in North Carolina HERE