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Same-sex marriage in North Carolina

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Title: Same-sex marriage in North Carolina  
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Same-sex marriage in North Carolina

Legal status of
same-sex relationships
Previously performed and not invalidated
  1. Can be registered also in Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten
  2. Licensed in some counties in Kansas but same-sex marriage is not recognized by the state
  3. Currently legal in St. Louis, Missouri
  4. When performed in Mexican states that have legalized same-sex marriage

*Not yet in effect

LGBT portal

Same-sex marriage in North Carolina has been legal since October 10, 2014, when a U.S. District Court judge ruled in General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper that the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. The state's governor and attorney general had acknowledged that a recent ruling in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision not to hear an appeal in that case established the unconstitutionality of North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage. State legislators sought without success to intervene in lawsuits to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage.

North Carolina had previously denied marriage rights to same-sex couples by statute since 1996. A state constitutional amendment that was approved in 2012 reinforced that by defining marriage between a man and a woman as the only valid "domestic legal union" in the state and denying recognition to any similar legal status, such as civil unions.

Some cities in the state recognize domestic partnerships, and some make that status available to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage


On June 18, 1996, the North Carolina State Senate passed a bill banning same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex marriage out of state by a vote of 41-4. That same day, the North Carolina House of Representatives voted 98-10 in favor of the bill. It was ratified and went into effect on June 20, 1996.[1][2][3][4]


On September 12, 2011, the North Carolina House of Representatives voted 75-42 in favor of North Carolina Amendment 1, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and any "domestic legal union."[5][6][7] On September 13, 2011, North Carolina State Senate voted 30-16 in favor of the bill.[8][9] On May 8, 2012, North Carolina voters approved the of the amendment by a vote of 61.04% to 38.96%.[10]

The amendment added to Section XVI of the North Carolina Constitution:

Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.

North Carolina was the 30th state, and the last of the former Confederate states, to adopt a constitutional amendment defining marriage so as to exclude same-sex couples.[11]


Fisher-Borne v. Smith and Gerber v. Cooper

On June 13, 2012, six same-sex couples filed a federal lawsuit, Fisher-Borne v. Smith, that initially sought the right to obtain second-parent adoptions. In July 2013, following the June U.S. Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor, they amended their suit to challenge the constitutionality of the state's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples.[12] They are represented by the ACLU and private attorneys. Briefing was completed on August 13, 2014.[13] Three same-sex couples filed Gerber v. Cooper in federal court in April 2014 seeking North Carolina's recognition of their marriages, which were established in other jurisdictions. They are represented by the ACLU and private attorneys. Briefing was completed on August 13, 2014.[13] Proceedings in both cases were stayed pending the outcome of a Virginia case, Bostic v. Rainey. The U.S. Supreme Court declined the appeal in that case on October 6, 2014, leaving the Fourth Circuit's decision, which found Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, as binding precedent on courts in North Carolina.[14]

On October 8, 2014, U.S. District Judge William Osteen lifted those stays and invited plaintiffs' attorneys to present the court with a motion to rule North Carolina's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[15] The plaintiffs in both cases filed a joint motion asking the court to issue such an order. They modeled their suggested language on the order issued in Bostic.[16]

On October 9, two leaders of the state legislature, Thom Tillis, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Phil Berger, President Pro Tempore of the Senate, asked to be allowed to intervene to defend the state's ban.[17] Their filing said: "This intervention is about ensuring that the choice made by North Carolina voters receives its day in Court." They contended that "that because Bostic was based in part on outcome-determinative concessions made by the Virginia Attorney General that have not been made in this litigation, Bostic does not control." If the district court determines that Bostic controls the decision in these cases, they proposed to pursue appeals of that judgment to the Fourth Circuit, the Fourth Circuit en banc, and the U.S. Supreme Court.[18] On October 14, Judge Osteen allowed them to intervene solely to preserve their right to appeal.[19] He ruled for the plaintiffs the same day. He found Bostic controlling since North Carolina's and Virginia's bans were virtually identical, held North Carolina's ban unconstitutional, and enjoined the state from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage.[20]

General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper

On April 28, 2014, the United Church of Christ, joined by a coalition of Baptists, Lutherans, and Unitarian Universalists, filed a lawsuit[21] arguing that North Carolina's statute that makes it a crime to preside at the solemnization of the marriage of a couple that lacks a valid state marriage license unconstitutionally restricts religious freedom.[22][23] On June 3, 2014, additional national religious denominations and clergy from across traditions were added as plaintiffs, including the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis in addition to Episcopal, Jewish and Baptist clergy.[24] On October 7, the plaintiffs asked for an immediate injunction against the state, citing the Fourth Circuit's ruling in Bostic v. Rainey.[25] On October 10, District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr. denied a request by leaders of the state legislature to be allowed to intervene to defend the state's ban[26] and ruled the state's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.[27] He wrote:[28]

The issue before this court is neither a political issue nor a moral issue. It is legal issue, and it is clear as a matter of what is now settled law in the Fourth Circuit that North Carolina laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, refusing to recognize same-sex marriages originating elsewhere, and/or threatening to penalize those who would solemnize such marriages, are unconstitutional.

State's defense

On July 28, after the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Bostic v. Schaefer held that Virginia's denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced he would no longer defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage. He said that because all judges in North Carolina were bound by the Fourth Circuit's precedent, "today we know our law will almost surely be overturned as well. Simply put, it's time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward knowing the ultimate resolution will likely come from the United States Supreme Court."[29]


When the decision in General Synod took effect, state officials announced that judges were required to preside at marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples just as they would at those for different-sex couples and that a judge could not claim an exemption on religious grounds. By early November, six judges had resigned citing religious objections. A group of Republican legislators led by Senate leader Phil Berger announced plans to sponsor legislation creating an religious exemption for state magistrates who object to participating same-sex weddings on religious grounds.[30]

Domestic partnership

Map of North Carolina counties and cities that offer domestic partner benefits either county-wide or in particular cities.
  City offers domestic partner benefits
  County-wide partner benefits through domestic partnership
  County or city does not offer domestic partner benefits

Some cities and counties in North Carolina recognize domestic partnerships. Registered domestic partners are legally recognized only by the jurisdiction in which they registered. The partnerships allow the extension of health benefits to employees and their domestic partners. Some cities in the state recognize both same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partnerships. According to 2010 census data, there were 228,000 North Carolina couples in domestic partnerships and 12 percent of those were same-sex couples.[5][31]

The cities and counties in North Carolina with domestic-partner registries are:


Since 1994, Carrboro permits domestic partnerships between any two persons who are residents of the Town of Carrboro or at least one of whom is an employee of the Town of Carrboro.[32]

Chapel Hill

Since 1995, Chapel Hill allows registration of domestic partnerships[33] between any two adults who live together in a long-term relationship of indefinite duration, with an exclusive mutual commitment in which the partners share the necessities of life and are financially interdependent, and also are not married to anyone else, do not have another domestic partner and not related by blood more closely than would bar their marriage in the state.[34]


In 2003, Durham became the first city to allow domestic-partner benefits to employees.[35]

Durham County

In 2003, Durham County became the first county to allow domestic-partner benefits to employees.[36]

Orange County

In 2003, Orange County, North Carolina, Commissioners approved a measure to extend benefits to domestic partners of county employees.[37] Benefits available include dependent health, dental, life, retiree health insurance, funeral leave, sick leave, shared leave and family leave of absence.[37] The estimated cost for one percent of Orange County (or seven employees) to participate in domestic partner benefits was $17,000 for the county's contribution.[38]


Greensboro began offering domestic-partner benefits in 2007.[39] The town council was initially concerned that by offering domestic-partner benefits they would be in violation of North Carolina's crimes-against-nature law as well as federal equal-protection laws if they offered those benefits to same-sex couples and not unmarried heterosexual couples.[40]

Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County passed policy allowing domestic-partner benefits for county employees and their partners in December 2009.[41] The approved plan defines "domestic partners" as two same-sex people in a "spousal like" and "exclusive, mutually committed" relationship in which both "share the necessities of life and are financially interdependent".[42]


On February 22, 2011, the City Council of Asheville authorized the creation of a Domestic Partner Registry to recognize same-sex relationships, becoming the first city in Western North Carolina to do so. The registry became available on May 2, 2011.[43]


In 2013, Charlotte created its own domestic partner registry, separate from Mecklenburg County.[44]

Buncombe County

In 2013, Buncombe County became the 4th North Carolina county to allow domestic partnership benefits.[43]

Hospital visitation

In 2008, the North Carolina General Assembly added a provision to the Patients’ Bill of Rights affording hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples though a designated visitor statute.[45]

Public opinion

Public opinion for same-sex marriage in North Carolina
Poll source Date(s)
Margin of
% support % opposition % no opinion % refused
Elon University October 21-25, 2014 1084 adult residents ± 2.98% 42.6% 46.5% 10.2% 0.7%
996 registered voters ± 3.11% 41.7% 47% 10.6% 0.7%
687 likely voters ± 3.74% 38.7% 49.8% 10.8% 0.7%
High Point University October 21-25, 2014 802 ± 3.5% 36% 58% 6%
New York Times/CBS News/YouGov September 20–October 1, 2014 2002 ± 2.5% 42% 46% 12%
American Insights September 5-10, 2014 600 registered voters ± 4% 46% 46% 9%
459 likely voters ± 4.6% 44% 48% 8%
Elon University September 5-9, 2014 1,078 adult residents ± 2.98% 45.3% 41.8% 12.4% 0.5%
983 registered voters ± 3.13% 45% 41.9% 12.7% 0.4%
629 likely voters ± 3.91% 45.1% 42.5% 11.7% 0.7%
Elon University April 25-28, 2014 672 ± 3.78% 40.7% 46.4% 12.9%
New York Times/Kaiser Family Foundation April 8-15, 2014 900 registered voters ± ? 44% 49% 7%
Public Policy Polling April 3-6, 2014 740 ± 3.6% 40% 53% 7%
Elon University February 23-26, 2014 925 ± 3.22% 39.7% 51.3% 8.8% 0.2%
Public Religion Research Institute November 12-December 18, 2013 165 ± 8.9% 47% 48% 5%
Elon University September 13-16, 2013 701 ± 3.7% 42.6% 46.5% 10.9%
Elon University April 5-9, 2013 770 ± 3.53% 43.2% 45.9% 10.5% 0.5%
Public Policy Polling February 7-10, 2013 600 ± 4% 38% 54% 9%
Public Policy Polling May 10-13, 2012 666 ± 3.8% 34% 58% 8%
Public Policy Polling May 5-6, 2012 1,026 ± 3.1% 34% 57% 9%
Public Policy Polling December 1-4, 2011 865 ± 3.3% 30% 57% 13%
Public Policy Polling September 1-4, 2011 520 ± 4.3% 31% 61% 8%

See also


  1. ^ Senate Bill 1487 / S.L. 1995-588 (= H1452) S1
  2. ^ The Bill
  3. ^ North Carolina SB1487
  4. ^ "Chapter 51- Article 1". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Zucchino, David (May 8, 2012). "North Carolina Passes Ban on Gay Marriage".  
  6. ^ "Senate Bill 514 "Defense of Marriage" (Amendment 1)". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  7. ^ "Marriage Amendment Would Affect Many People, Panel Says".  
  9. ^ ROLL CALL Legislative Session Day 97 (09-12-2011)
  10. ^ Weiner, Rachel (May 8, 2012). "North Carolina Passes Gay Marriage Ban Amendment One". The Fix by Chris Cillizza (blog of  
  11. ^ The McDowell News"Marriage Amendment passes in North Carolina by double-digits," ,, May 9, 2012, accessed May 9, 2012
  12. ^ "Gay marriage cases in 5 states offer broad view". Washington Post. January 16, 2014. Retrieved January 20, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "Pending Marriage Equality Cases: North Carolina". Retrieved August 24, 2014. 
  14. ^ Barnes, Robert (October 6, 2014). "Supreme Court declines to review same-sex marriage cases". Washington Post. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  15. ^ Blythe, Anne (October 8, 2014). "Federal judge in Greensboro lifts stay on challenges to North Carolina gay marriage ban". News Observer. Retrieved October 8, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Plaintiffs' Motion for Judgment, October 8, 2014". U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Motion to intervene, October 9, 2014". U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Memo in support of motion to intervene". U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Order on Intervention". U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 14, 2014. 
  20. ^ "Order Enjoining North Carolina from enforcing marriage bans.". U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 14, 2014. 
  21. ^ "General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper". Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  22. ^ "North Carolina's Gay-Marriage Ban Is Challenged by Church". New York Times. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Freedom to Marry in North Carolina". Freedom to Marry. Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  24. ^ "Clergy and same-sex couples seek the freedom the marry and religious freedom in North Carolina". Retrieved June 4, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Plaintiffs' Brief, October 7, 2014". U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Order denying intervention". U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 10, 2014. 
  27. ^ Snow, Justin (October 10, 2014). "Federal judge strikes down North Carolina same-sex marriage ban". Metro Weekly. Retrieved October 10, 2014. 
  28. ^ "Memorandum of Decision and Order". U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. Retrieved October 19, 2014. 
  29. ^ Snow, Justin (July 28, 2014). "Federal appeals court rules Virginia same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional". Metro Weekly. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 
  30. ^ Andersen, Kirsten (October 31, 2014). "Six North Carolina judges quit after gay ‘marriage’ legalized". Life Site News. Retrieved November 4, 2014. 
  31. ^ Blades, Meteor. "North Carolina Voters Approve Anti-Marriage Equality Amendment, Until They Learn What It Does".  
  32. ^ "Carrboro Town Code: Chapter 3". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Town of Chapel Hill: General Policies". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  34. ^ "Town of Chapel Hill: Domestic Partnership". Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  35. ^ "Durham Votes to Allow Benefits for Domestic Partners".  
  36. ^ "9:00 A.M. Worksession - Agenda". Durham County Government. September 2, 2003. Retrieved April 4, 2012. In conjunction with the County Attorney's legal opinion that only same-sex domestic partner benefits can be offered to County employees without the violation of the Commissioners' oaths of office, the Human Resources Department has completed the actions necessary to make this offering possible. 
  37. ^ a b "Orange County, NC To Offer Partner Benefits". December 1, 2003. Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  38. ^ "Orange County Commission Agenda Action Items". September 21, 2004. Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  39. ^ "May North Carolina Local Government Employers Offer Domestic Partner Benefits?".  
  40. ^ "Greensboro To Move Forward on Domestic Partnership Benefits". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  41. ^ "North Carolina County Passes Domestic Partner Benefits Despite Defamatory Comments from Commissioner Bill James". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  42. ^ Comer, Matt (December 16, 2009). "Mecklenburg Commissioners Approve DP Benefits". Archived from the original on April 21, 2012. 
  43. ^ a b "Domestic Partner Registry Available May 2". April 27, 2011. Archived from the original on April 19, 2012. 
  44. ^ Charlotte council approves domestic partner benefits, scraps capital plan
  45. ^ State ensures gay hospital visitation rights

External links

  • Equality North Carolina
  • North Carolina Values Coalition
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