- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The nationwide rebellion of county clerks over state marriage laws continued Tuesday, as a North Carolina official accepted applications from gay couples and pressed the issue with state officials.

Meanwhile, at least 15 county clerks in Michigan told advocates they are ready to issue marriage licenses if a federal judge overturns state marriage law Wednesday.

A gay-marriage ruling is also expected this week from New Jersey’s highest court.

In North Carolina, Drew Reisinger, register of deeds for Buncombe County, said he had accepted 17 marriage license applications from gay couples Tuesday.

He didn’t sign or process the applications, but asked state Attorney General Roy Cooper for a formal opinion on whether he can accept such licenses.

Mr. Cooper revealed this week that he personally supports gay marriage. But a letter to Mr. Reisinger, released Tuesday by Grayson Kelley, chief deputy attorney general, said that “unless the courts rule otherwise or North Carolina law is changed,” Mr. Reisinger would be violating state law to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

Gay couples have already filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s voter-passed marriage amendment, which defines marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.

Leaders of the Campaign for Southern Equality, which launched the “We Do” campaign in 2011 to encourage county officials in Southern states to buck their state laws and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, applauded Mr. Reisinger. They plan on sending gay couples to other North Carolina counties in November.

The strategy of clerks challenging state law was first used publicly around Valentine’s Day 2004, when San Francisco County clerks — at the behest of then-Mayor Gavin Newsom — issued marriage licenses to thousands of gay couples.

The licenses were later invalidated by the California Supreme Court, but the strategy arguably galvanized efforts to enact gay marriage in the state — a feat accomplished in July.

In recent months, county clerks in New Mexico and Pennsylvania used the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Windsor v. United States to argue that state laws blocking gay marriage are unconstitutional.

In Pennsylvania, a judge ordered D. Bruce Hanes, Montgomery County register of wills, to stop issuing licenses to gay couples. Mr. Hanes, who issued 174 such licenses, has appealed to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

In New Mexico, two judges upheld clerks’ rights to issue marriage licenses to gay couples, and clerks in several counties are continuing to issue licenses. The New Mexico Association of Counties has intervened, and on Oct. 23, the Supreme Court of New Mexico will hear arguments on Griego v. Oliver.

In addition:

The New Jersey Supreme Court is expected to rule any day on whether gay marriages can commence on Oct. 21, as ordered by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson.

On Friday, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration asked the high court to keep the status quo, saying the state would suffer “irreparable harm if it is forced to change the millennia-old definition of marriage only to find out that subsequent judicial or congressional activity rendered this change unnecessary.”

But Tuesday, attorneys for Garden State Equality and gay couples countered that they would be harmed if the high court didn’t permit gay marriages to start immediately.

Unless gay couples in New Jersey are legally married — and not in a civil union — they cannot obtain federal benefits such as family medical leave, health insurance or Social Security death benefits, said attorneys with Lambda Legal and their allies.

The New Jersey Supreme Court said it will hear oral arguments in early January in Garden State Equality v. Dow.

In Michigan, U.S. District Court Judge Bernard A. Friedman is scheduled to hear testimony Wednesday on the constitutionality of Michigan’s voter-passed amendment preventing same-sex marriage.

A lesbian couple initially filed the case, DeBoer v. Snyder, seeking joint custody of their adopted children; at Judge Friedman’s request, they expanded it to include the marriage law.

Dana Nessel, the couple’s attorney, said Judge Friedman might strike the law down Wednesday. If that happens, county clerks in at least 15 counties are ready to issue marriage licenses, said Equality Michigan.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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