Marriage Equality

The NC Policy Watch Critical Conversations Forum on August 7th featured Chris Brook, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation, Jen Jones, Director of Communications and Outreach at Equality North Carolina, and Shawn Long, one of the plaintiffs in one of the court challenges to the North Carolina discrimination amendment One.

Mr. Brook observed that the law typically moves very slowly, but this has been an exception with Supreme Court and 20 Appeals Courts’ decisions in a short time. There are three district courts in NC, and Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals includes the southeastern states. The recent decision by that court in the Bostic case was specifically in regards to rescinding the Virginia state law banning gay marriage.  A footnote in that decision refers to the NC Amendment One. Four cases have been filed in NC to repeal Amendment One and are pending in district courts.  If the Supreme Court remands the decisions of the various Appeals Courts, then gay marriage could occur quickly in NC, but if they accept the appeals it may not occur until 2015 – 2016

Ms. Jones noted that Equality NC has partnered with the ACLU to “tell our stories” so that in addition to legal action there is a convincing case in public opinion and political action with the NC General Assembly. In NC there are no safeguards on job or housing discrimination against LGBT people, and resolving the marriage equality issue doesn’t protect LGBT people from job or housing discrimination, including public accomodations.  The issues also include discrimination in the schools.

Foster parenting and adoption are extremely difficult for LGBT couples.   Marriage Equality will not be the solution because other discriminatory laws will still be effect.  NC is one of 29 states that do not have non-discriminatory job protection laws. Legislation has been introduced in NC for the past 8 years without bringing brought to a vote.  In NC 17 counties and 12 cities have non-discriminatory policies.

Shawn Long observed that we are all part of the same big melting pot, and all we want is for our family to have the same rights as others. The organization Marriage Equality USA has a video on their web site addressing the rights and needs of LGBT families.

The 2012 decision of the United States Supreme Court held that restricting U.S. federal interpretation of “marriage” and “spouse” to apply only to heterosexual unions, by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, because doing so “disparage[s] and … injure[s] those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” This decision invalidated state laws on this issue, and in every subsequent challenge the DOMA decision has prevailed. It already has become part of the regulations in the Federal Executive Departments and agencies, and it is only a matter of time before it prevails in all states.

In response to a question from the floor about the backlash from the rush of marriage equality decisions, the legal and public opinion tactics of the right have focused on the impact of these decisions on the religious liberty of individuals to practice their religious beliefs that may exclude LGBT people from receiving goods and/or services. Where those exceptions have been challenged, they have been held not to be valid.

 

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