North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper will stop defending state’s marriage ban

Today, July 28, just hours after the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit issued its decision in Bostic v. Schaefer out of Virginia, affirming a lower court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said that his office would stop defending marriage discrimination in the Tarheel State.

He said:

Our attorneys have vigorously defended North Carolina’s marriage law, which is their job, but today our marriage law will almost surely be overturned as well. Simply put, it’s time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court.

After reviewing the Fourth Circuit decision and consulting with attorneys here, I’ve concluded the State of North Carolina will not oppose the cases moving forward. The State of North Carolina will acknowledge the Fourth Circuit’s opinion that marriage is a fundamental right and our office believes judges in North Carolina are bound by this Fourth Circuit decision.

Cooper is now the tenth Attorney General in nine states to refuse to defend marriage discrimination, following similar moves from the Attorneys General in California (first then-AG Jerry Brown, and subsequently, current AG Kamala Harris), Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Nevada, Virginia, Oregon, and Kentucky. Each of these attorneys general refused to defend the anti-marriage laws, declaring them unconstitutional and indefensible. In several other states, including Maryland, New York, and Arkansas, Attorneys General have voiced their support for the freedom to marry for same-sex couples.

Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson applauded AG Cooper's move. He said:

Attorney General Roy Cooper's principled decision to stop spending North Carolina's taxpayers money to defend indefensible marriage discrimination puts him in good company, alongside the U.S. Attorney General and eight of his state counterparts. The Constitution's command is clear, as is the writing on the wall - and it's time to end marriage discrimination and proclaim liberty throughout the land, including North Carolina and Virginia where so many loving and committed couples are eager to share in the freedom to marry.

In February, United States Attorney General Eric Holder, who famously refused to defend the so-called Defense of Marriage Act two years before its core was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, indicated that Attorneys General are not required to defend laws that they believe to be unconstitutional. He explained, ""Engaging in that process and making that determination is something that’s appropriate for an attorney general to do," adding, "If I were attorney general in Kansas in 1953, I would not have defended a Kansas statute that put in place separate-but-equal facilities."

Freedom to Marry celebrates Attorney General Cooper's refusal to defend marriage discrimination in North Carolina. As more and more state officials come to the shared understanding that there is no good reason to deny the freedom to marry to same-sex couples, we can continue to advance marriage for all.

Read more about this morning's ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.