The Register of Deeds in one North Carolina county announced on Monday that he would begin accepting same-sex marriage licenses, despite a constitutional ban. The challenge, from Buncombe County's Drew Reisinger, follows soon after state Attorney General Roy Cooper announced his support for same-sex marriage.
Here's Reisinger's plan, according to a statement:
“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."
At least six same-sex couples have already signed up to apply for licenses on Tuesday, according to Reisinger's office.
So, is North Carolina the next gay marriage battleground state? The Attorney General's announcement, along with Reisinger's plan to ask for Cooper's legal advice on the applications, is certainly a challenge to state law. But Cooper intends to defend the ban, and enforce it against Reisinger's plan, despite his personal views on the subject. In other words, this particular challenge won't get very far beyond the symbolic. A spokesperson for Cooper's office has already said that "these marriage licenses cannot be issued."
The latest challenge comes as the state's ban faces a lawsuit from several same-sex couples challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina's anti-gay marriage amendment. Cooper, as the Attorney General, will defend the state against that suit. But over the weekend, Cooper angered anti-gay conservatives in the state when he told the Associated Press that he supported "marriage equality," which seems to confirm what many believed was his personal stance. Cooper, for instance, opposed the 2012 amendment that banned same-sex marriage in the state, but only on the grounds that the language was unclear. Even though Cooper has made it pretty clear that he'll defend the law anyway, some conservative groups are already complaining that his personal beliefs will affect his case.
In any case, this would make North Carolina the third state to have a county official accept marriage applications after the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act decision. In New Mexico, where no state law exists banning or allowing same-sex marriages, several counties are now issuing licenses. In Pennsylvania, where gay marriage is banned by law, Montgomery county issued close to 200 licenses to same-sex couples before the state tried to stop the practice with a court order. Pennsylvania's governor Tom Corbett recently compared same-sex relationships to incest.