- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A federal judge overseeing a pair of challenges to North Carolina’s gay marriage ban denied a motion late Thursday from lawyers for Republican legislative leaders seeking more than a weeklong delay in the case.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. in Greensboro issued a ruling shooting down a request from House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger that they be given until Oct. 17 to prepare arguments supporting their motion to intervene in the lawsuits. Instead, Osteen gave them until noon Friday.

Osteen appears poised to strike down the marriage ban approved by North Carolina voters in 2012, issuing an order Wednesday lifting his stays and dismissing all prior motions. The GOP leaders are seeking to intervene after state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, concluded all possible legal defenses had been exhausted.

“The intervenors fail to explain what facts that have not been denied are necessary to challenge the application of Bostic,” Osteen wrote, referring to the July ruling from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down Virginia’s gay marriage ban. The appeals court in Richmond has jurisdiction over North Carolina, and Osteen is required to follow its ruling.

“In light of the stage of this litigation, and the arguments and positions previously asserted by both parties to this case, this court does not find good cause to extend the time for filing a proposed answer,” the judge ruled.

Tillis and Berger filed their last-minute motions Friday afternoon as same-sex couples prepared to seek marriage licenses the moment the North Carolina ban is no more. The Republicans hired California lawyer John C. Eastman, chairman of the conservative National Organization for Marriage. Eastman has agreed to forgo his first $10,000 in legal fees, but after that would be paid $400 an hour.

The National Organization for Marriage describes itself as a defender of traditional family values and the definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. However, advocacy organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and Human Rights Campaign portray NOM as a homophobic hate group.

American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina legal director Chris Brook criticized the move by the GOP leaders as a waste of taxpayer funds.

“The legislature has had more than a year to intervene in this matter if they felt their interests were not adequately represented, and failed to do so,” said Brook, who represents nine same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry and adopt children. “The legislature should quit playing politics by seeking to defend the indefensible.”

Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, said in a debate earlier this week he felt obligated to defend the will of North Carolina voters against “liberal activist judges” appointed by President Barack Obama.

The recent rulings striking down gay marriage bans across the nation as unconstitutional have been handed down by federal judges appointed by presidents from both parties. While North Carolina’s prohibition remains popular with religiously conservative voters, recent polls show increasing acceptance for same-sex marriage.

The ACLU filed a request seeking a quick ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear appeals of decisions striking down similar marriage bans in other states. Osteen, an appointee of President George W. Bush, has delayed making a decision since July.

U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., in Asheville oversees a third challenge filed by members of the clergy seeking to marry gay couples. Tillis and Berger are seeking to intervene in that case, as well.

The Republican lawmakers are currently not party to any of the lawsuits. Osteen or Cogburn would have to rule to give them standing.

While the legal maneuvering played out Thursday, same-sex couples across the state waited for a resolution to the long-running legal fight.

In an Asheville church, Diane Ansley, 55, and Cathy McGaughey, 54, practiced their wedding vows. They bought flowers and planned to dash to the nearby Buncombe County Register of Deeds office to apply for a marriage license the moment they heard the state ban had been overturned.

As the day wore on without a ruling, the couple of 15 years tried to stay optimistic. McGaughey, a bookkeeper, admitted to being a little frustrated.

“It’s been such a roller coaster for sure,” she said. “Let’s just get it done and have the celebration.”

___

Associated Press Writer Mitch Weiss reported from Asheville.

___

Follow Associated Press Writer Michael Biesecker on Twitter.com/mbieseck

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide