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Charlotte Area News

Supreme Court Ruling Maintains Same-Sex Marriage In NC

Lisa Worf

Same sex couples can continue to get married in North Carolina, after Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges. North Carolina has a ban on same-sex marriage in its constitution, after a voter referendum in 2012, but a federal judge in Asheville struck it down in October 2014.

Lee Knight Caffery and her wife were one of the couples in North Carolina to join a lawsuit that ended up challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage. It started out as a second parent adoption case. She says the week has been doubly joyous—her wife was notified this week that the adoption went through.

“That was cause for celebration alone,” Caffery says. “And then to have the Supreme Court’s decision on top of that—that just solidifies our legal standing as a family, the family we knew we’ve always been—has been amazing.”

About one hundred people came out Friday night to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision at a party hosted by Equality NC  in Charlotte. 

"This is the end of this battle for marriage equality. There's so much more to do and we all know that," Scott Bishop with the Human Rights Campaign told the crowd.  "Celebrate this evening and know that we have to fight for employment rights, housing rights, public accommodation rights for the LGBT community."  

Melissa Morris and her wife were buoyed by the decision.  She said it's one more step toward equality for LGBT people. 

"It’s exciting that our marriage is meaningful when we cross state lines, that if something happens to her that I can go and visit her in the hospital, that our children are protected, our grandchildren are protected," said Morris.

Leaders of the General Assembly, House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, had challenged the October decision. They called the Supreme Court decision “disappointing,” but say they will respect the ruling and make sure North Carolina complies.

Later in the day, Governor Pat McCrory issued a similar statement.

“I still believe the definition of marriage should be determined by the states and it should be the union between one man and one woman,” the governor said. “However, I took an oath to uphold the constitution which compels me as governor to ensure that North Carolina upholds the rule of law.”

Tami Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the N.C. Values Coalition, which opposes same-sex marriage, says she won’t give up the fight.

“Today's ruling by the Supreme Court will no more settle the issue of gay marriage than Roe v. Wade settled the issue of abortion,” Fitzgerald says. “And I believe that history will prove the arrogance of the Supreme Court's new, illusory definition for marriage.”

Even before Friday’s decision, LGBT groups have called winning the right to marry only one part of the fight. Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Supreme Court case, said just that in Charlotte earlier this month.

“Everyone in the LGBT community deserves the right to live their life and to enjoy the same rights, protections, and obligations as every other American,” Obergefell said at a press conference. “Marriage equality will be a great accomplishment and great celebration, but we have much more work to do.”

Obergefell, and groups including Human Rights Campaign and Equality-NC say they want a North Carolina law that protects LGBT people from workplace and housing discrimination.

 In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union described the Supreme Court decision as providing momentum, even though it says nothing about workplace discrimination.

“It doesn’t do that explicitly,” says ACLU of North Carolina legal director Chris Brook. “But when you see court case after court case that invalidate measures that treat the LGBT community in any sort of second class way, I think it’s relatively plain that quite a sea change has taken place in the law.”

Brook says, under current North Carolina law, employers can dismiss workers for their sexual orientation or gender identity with no repercussions, since it’s an at-will work state and they are not a protected class.

Mecklenburg County includes some protection for public employees who are LGBT, but a provision to expand that in Charlotte failed earlier this year.

Fitzgerald of the NC Values Coalition argues a law isn’t needed, in fact it would backfire.

“People who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage will be discriminated against,” Fitzgerald says. “People who own bakeries are put out of business just because they won’t bake a simple wedding cake for a same-sex wedding.”

Fitzgerald does want an added protection against discrimination in the law, but for religious freedom.