Add North Carolina, part of the nation's traditional Bible Belt, to states trying to figure out how to deal with same-sex marriage following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that threw out portions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
Drew Reisinger, the Buncombe County register of deeds, has accepted marriage license requests from 10 same-sex couples, but will hold on to the documents until state Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper renders legal advice. North Carolina in 2012 approved an amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriages.
Cooper has said he personally supports gay marriage, but added that he would defend the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, in effect opening a new legal front in same-sex marriage issues. Marriages are a state issue, but the court’s decision meant that a number of state positions, from outright rejection of marriage to compromises such as civil unions, are ripe for reexamination in courts around the nation.
Battles are being fought from New Jersey to Michigan, where a federal judge will hear arguments Wednesday about whether to overturn that state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
In some respects, the North Carolina case is similar to one in Pennsylvania, where a local clerk began issuing marriage licenses despite a state ban. That action was successfully challenged by state officials in court but on very narrow grounds that the clerk did not have the standing to act as he did.
The North Carolina case is more complicated because the state is generally considered more conservative and in a more conservative region than Pennsylvania, which is the only state in the Northeast that has neither same-sex marriage nor civil unions.
Brenda Clark and Carol McCrory, a couple who have been together for 25 years, were the first to ask Reisinger for a license Tuesday morning as part of an effort sponsored by the Campaign for Southern Equality, a rights group. The group has been going around the state seeking someone to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples as part of its “We Do” campaign.
"I think it's pretty clear that there is a contradiction between state law and federal law, and we want some clarification," Reisinger said, according to media reports of the meeting.
Reisinger's announcement Monday that he would accept requests for licenses came hours after an Associated Press story revealed that Cooper said he supported same-sex marriage. But Cooper also said his personal views wouldn't prevent him from defending North Carolina's ban in court.
Cooper is named as a defendant and is the state's lead designated attorney in a lawsuit filed by several same-sex couples that was recently expanded to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment.
Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.