Court Strikes Down VA Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Nc Attorney General Roy Cooper

Nc Attorney General Roy Cooper

Following the Fourth Circuit Court’s ruling, Cooper announced Monday that North Carolina would no longer be contesting court challenges to Amendment 1.

Monday in Richmond, a three-judge panel on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage – a ruling that may have significant implications for North Carolina down the road.

In the case of Bostic v. Schaefer, the judges struck down Virginia’s ban by a 2-1 vote, ruling that a ban on same-sex marriage violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and due process under the law. Technically that ruling only applies to Virginia’s law, but the Fourth Circuit also covers North Carolina as well – so lower court judges will use the Fourth Circuit’s opinion as guidance when ruling on North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban, also known as Amendment 1.

The ruling will not take effect in Virginia for 21 days; it’s likely the judges will issue a stay on the ruling; and it’s almost certain to be appealed to a higher court. Still, Monday’s ruling is significant: it marks only the third time a circuit court has struck down a state’s ban on same-sex marriage. And within hours of the ruling, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper announced that the state would no longer actively oppose the challenges to Amendment 1 currently making their way through the courts.

Following the ruling, WCHL’s Aaron Keck spoke with Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt, a constitutional lawyer who’s actively involved in one of the ongoing challenges to Amendment 1.

Aaron also spoke with Chris Sgro, the executive director of Equality NC, an organization that’s fighting against the same-sex marriage ban in North Carolina.

Amendment One Lawsuit Seeks Religious Liberty

Attorney Mark Kleinschmidt, who also happens to be the mayor of Chapel Hill, is representing a local church in a lawsuit against Amendment 1.

The amendment bans gay marriage in North Carolina, and the United Church of Christ calls that a violation of religious liberty.

“We did the analysis,” says Kleinschmidt, “and it became very clear that this is a violation, not only of the equal protection clause and due process clause of the U.S. Constitution, but also the First Amendment.”

Kleinschmidt says that he and his law partners at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen had been talking for a long time about challenging Amendment One, and were encouraged by the success of similar challenges across the country.

Along the way, he and his partners became interested in helping churches that wanted to support their LGBT congregants.

As reported recently in Chapel Hill News, Kleinschmidt is representing the United Church of Christ, as well as many individuals and pastors that are going to court to challenge Amendment One, on the grounds that it violates the religious liberty of faith communities that wish to celebrate same-sex unions.

There are two other challenges to the gay-marriage ban in North Carolina. But the one Kleinschmidt is working on, which was filed April 28 in Charlotte, is the only one that mentions religious freedom.

The ACLU has filed two federal lawsuits in Greensboro. The first one started as a challenge to adoption policies, and then expanded to an Amendment One challenge after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

The second ACLU lawsuit is on behalf of families with pressing medical needs who are denied medical-related privileges that married people receive.

“I think it’s important for the community and the people of North Carolina to understand just how broad an impact this is having – not only on LGBT people, but on faith communities, and the ability of couples to be able to access benefits. And also, the children who are part of same-sex families.”

Like many opponents of Amendment One, Kleinschmidt sees a domino effect happening in federal courts, and it makes him feel hopeful for North Carolina.

“If you read some of these decisions that have come down, even just this week, in Pennsylvania and Oregon,” says Kleinschmidt, you have strong language that describes what the promise of our Constitution is to the people of this country; and what damage follows when the state tries to limit access to the rights of the Constitution.”

He says that seeing such arguments articulated by judges in Idaho, Utah and Oklahoma — in places he would not have expected – could cause many people to stop and reflect on their own attitudes.

Kleinschmidt says he can’t imagine Amendment One passing with as much ease if it were on the ballot today.

In a way, he says, that’s already a victory.

“As an attorney, you want to be able to secure the rights for your client that they are due under the Constitution,” says Kleinschmidt.

“But you also want them to be able to move on when the litigation’s over, and live in a community that respects their pursuit of their rights, and respects their exercise of their rights.”

That’s a slower and more difficult process than the law, says Kleinschmidt, because it means appealing to hearts as well as minds.

OC Register Of Deeds Candidates Face Off In First Debate

CARRBORO-In what might be a first for Orange County, a crowd of nearly fifty turned out to hear from three candidates vying for the job of Register of Deeds.

The usually low-key race is garnering attention as former Carrboro Mayor Mark Chilton has stated that if elected, he’ll issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in defiance of state law. He said North Carolina’s Amendment One, which bans same sex marriage, violates the U.S. Constitution.

“I think it is clear it’s unconstitutional, and the oath of office requires that we enforce first and foremost the United States Constitution and that’s what I plan to do,” said Chilton, speaking Thursday at a forum hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women.

But the incumbent, Deborah Brooks, said it’s not that easy.

“Same sex marriage is illegal in the state of North Carolina, and we cannot issue a marriage license,” said Brooks. “If they change that statute, then we’ll go along with that. We do not discriminate.”

The other challenger in the race is Sara Stephens. She sided with Brooks on the question of same sex marriage licenses.

“My personal beliefs cannot and will not interfere with my professional obligations,” said Stephens. “It is my intention to have a friendly and welcoming office for everyone that enters the Orange County Register of Deeds Office, but I will not go against the oath.”

Chilton stressed he’s not just running to take a stand against Amendment One. He’s also a real estate lawyer with a long interest in Orange County land use history. He said he’d like to see the county offer online filing for documents.

“We’re part-way into implementing it now and I believe it’s very important to finish it,” said Chilton. “Every real estate closing that happens in Chapel Hill and Carrboro results in a 20 mile round-trip that some paralegal has to do to drive it up to the office. That makes no sense to me.”

Brooks has held the position as Register for the past four years, and worked in the Deeds office for nearly forty years. She says the office has made progress toward providing more online services, including scanning more than 900,000 records that will be available to the public by May. In addition, she says she hopes to move away from a cash-only system.

“Everybody has to pay cash that comes into our office,” said Brooks. ”We’re getting ready to implement credit cards so you can come in and use your credit card.”

Stephens worked in the Register of Deeds office for five years before moving to the private sector. She said her priority will be providing good customer service to all residents of Orange County.

“A little over 3,500 births took place at UNC Hospitals, around half of those children born were Latino. Right now the office does not employ a Spanish-speaking person, or have Spanish on the website,” said Stephens. “That does not accurately reflect our community.”

All three candidates are Democrats and there is no Republican challenger, which means the race will be decided in the May 6 primary. Republican voters can participate in the primary if they change their registration to “unaffiliated” by contacting the local Board of Elections by April 10.

Thursday’s forum, hosted by the Orange County Democratic Women, also featured candidates running for the Board of County Commissioners. WCHL will bring you more from that forum early next week.

Chilton: “I’ll Sign Same-Sex Marriage Licenses”

Former Carrboro mayor Mark Chilton confirmed today that if he’s elected as Orange County Register of Deeds, he will sign same-sex marriage licenses, in defiance of the North Carolina state constitution.

Listen to Chilton’s conversation with WCHL’s Aaron Keck.

Listen here.

In a statement on Facebook, Chilton said that his primary duty as an elected official is to uphold the U.S. Constitution above any state or local statutes that may contradict it – and that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage and civil unions is “clearly contrary” to the federal Constitution, especially in the context of recent Supreme Court and lower-court decisions. (The Supreme Court has not yet weighed in directly on the question of whether the U.S. Constitution guarantees same-sex couples the right to marry, but lower courts in recent months have struck down state-level bans in Virginia, Texas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Utah, all on constitutional grounds.)

Prior to today, Chilton had declined to say whether or not he’d issue same-sex marriage licenses – saying he preferred to focus on his other qualifications for the job, including an extensive background in real estate. But in an earlier interview, he told WCHL that he would give precedence to the U.S. Constitution above all other laws in his role in the office. “To my way of thinking,” he said last week, “the number one responsibility of all elected officials in North Carolina is to uphold the federal Constitution, above and beyond all other purported laws or constitutions.”

Chilton is one of three candidates for the position; the other two are former deputy Register of Deeds Sara Stephens and current incumbent Deborah B. Brooks. All three are Democrats, so the winner of the Democratic primary on May 6 will be the presumptive winner in the November general election. (Neither Brooks nor Stephens have weighed in definitively yet on the same-sex marriage issue, but Stephens told WCHL, “As Register, I feel it would be my responsibility to take actions within my power to ensure that our office is a friendly and welcoming place to all people.” Brooks has not issued same-sex marriage licenses in her tenure as Register of Deeds.)

Chilton’s full statement is below:

I’ll sign same sex marriage licenses if I am elected Orange County Register of Deeds.

I wasn’t really trying to talk about this issue at first in the Chilton for Register of Deeds race, because my campaign and qualifications for the office run much deeper. But the media keeps asking, so let me say it loud and clear: “Amendment One” is clearly contrary to the United States Constitution.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Windsor case last year does not answer every remaining question about same sex marriage, but when read in the context of Roemer v. Evans, Perry v. Arnold Schwarzenegger etc., no one can seriously believe that that portion of our state constitution complies with the United States Constitution.

Some will no doubt argue that it is somehow not within the power of a county Register of Deeds to make decisions about the constitutionality of such matters. But let me remind them that the oath of office for all elected officials in North Carolina calls upon the officials to support and maintain the Constitution and laws of the United States, and the Constitution and laws of the State of North Carolina not inconsistent therewith. This oath means three important things in this context:

1. The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land and no act, statute, ordinance, state constitution, public school rule, city parking ordinance or any other rule or act of any level of government in this country may operate in derogation of the Constitution of the United States of America. That is, we support and maintain the state constitution but only to the extent that it is consistent with the Federal constitution.

2. Because it is a part of the oath of office for all elected officials in North Carolina, it is clear that we all understand that there will continually be moments where an elected official must interpret and apply the United States Constitution – drawing out the distinction between the state and federal constitution actually goes to the very heart of the oath of office.

3. Thus, it is not merely within the power of the Orange County Register of Deeds to interpret the constitutionality of Amendment One, it is the obligation and solemn duty of the Register of Deeds to do so.

In light of all of the above, if I am elected Register of Deeds of Orange County, I will not enforce the federally unconstitutional parts of the North Carolina state statutes and constitutional provisions which purport to prohibit the issuance of same sex marriage certificates.

Levin JCC Hosts Social Justice Events

Photo of Pearl Berlin and Lennie Gerber

CHAPEL HILL – The Levin Jewish Community Center will host the first new series of community events entitled JCC Conversations Sunday.

Its topic is Love and Equality.  During the event there will be a panel discussion on marriage in NC with Lennie Gerber and Pearl Berlin, Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne, and Lydia Lavelle.  Penny Rich, from the JCC, says that they made this event after hearing about Lennie and Pearl’s 47 years together.

“We thought about it, and we we’re like, wow,” Rich says. “At first, we were kind of joking around, but then it turned into, we should really have some sort of celebration of their life. “We hadn’t had a series yet that they quite fit into, so we actually developed a series around the social justice issue and that’s where JCC Conversations came about.”

Featured outtakes from the documentary film “Living in the Overlap” will be played during the event.  Lennie and Pearl are the subjects of the documentary, which is being entered into the Full Frame festival in the spring.  JCC executive director, Steve Schauder, says that the Jewish community has been progressive about the issue of equal marriage.

“Yeah, I think especially in regards to the Jewish community, every synagogue, the JCC, our Jewish federation, everyone opposed amendment one,” Schauder says. “So from our perspective we really see this as taking the lead and really mobilizing the community around a really critical human rights issue.”

The Pre-Program Reception tickets have sold out, but general admission tickets are still available for $12 and $8 for Levine JCC members.  Penny Rich says that she is excited to have Lydia Lavelle on the panel, and to bring the topic of social justice to the Jewish Community Center.

“We looked at what we want to cover this year, and we did decide that social justice was something that we really wanted to bring to the JCC,” Rich says. “We have a group there now that does a lot of social justice programming, but we didn’t have one specifically that the JCC does.”

Only the first of several events, the JCC Conversations: Love and Equality will be held at their community center on Cornwallis in Durham from 3:00 to 4:30 p.m.

To buy tickets or find out more information on the event click here.

Teacher Transfers: Not Going Away

I have been writing this column for well over a year.  I’ve written on topics as mundane as grocery shopping and as critical as the state education budget.  I’ve written about highly emotional topics such as Amendment One.  Following the posting of some of these, I’ve heard from a few of you.  But after my last post, on the transfer of Chapel Hill High School teacher Anne Thompson, I heard from an enormous number of people very upset by her situation.

The notes I received were not cut-and-pasted bits of a coordinated campaign either.  They were heartfelt pleas for a closer look at what could have led to the decision and to ask for accountability from school leadership.  Some notes were from parents and some were from within the school system and all were determined to battle an injustice.

When I wrote of Mrs. Thompson last week, only her appeal to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City School Board had been denied.  I wrote of what I saw as a perfect opportunity for compassion to be shown to a- by all accounts- fabulous teacher who wanted to teach one more year before retiring in the school that had been her home for 26 years, including during the year she recently lost her husband. 

Since then, you may have heard, another teacher’s appeal was denied.  Bert Wartski is also being transferred involuntarily and with the second denied appeal, I started to wonder if the school board has any history at all of granting an appeal?  Anyone know?  Is the process just for show?  Does anyone ever convince board members that a first pass at a decision was wrong?

There are always at least two sides to every story and thus far personnel issues have been the reason little has been said from school administration and the board.  I wonder if the teachers are allowed to waive confidentiality specific to the details of the transfers and as to what led to the denial of their appeals.  

As I wrote last week, I don’t know these teachers, nor do I have a child in any of the schools being discussed for their futures.  I write only about what I hear and what I read:  a major public outcry that’s not being answered.   People tend to like to know they’ve been heard in general and in this community, when it comes to education, that’s even more true.  And with both teachers being moved to teach new subjects, education itself does not seem to be behind the strategy.

The teachers say they plan to appeal beyond the school board now, to the Superior Court.  The teachers don’t plan to stop fighting, nor do those I heard from.  As I write this it’s August 1st.  The school year is now weeks, not months, away.  It would certainly be swell if someone found a way to retire the rancor before the kids showed up.  

Have any ideas?  Leave a comment below or write to me at

Amendment One: All You Need Is Love

Orange County voted against Amendment One. But it wasn’t enough. Even though a couple of weeks have passed, the pain still lingers. I know. I have friends who effectively have been told by the State of North Carolina they may not love in the way they find natural.

Love should never be considered a privilege. We should all choose to support how our friends and neighbors struggle to find the true love we all seek. And, once they find it, we should choose again openly to honor their decision and their lifestyle.

President Obama has it right: in all aspects of our society, not just love, marriage and domestic union, but the economy, what we pay folks, how we react to undocumented immigrants, in all facets of our daily lives, we should treat people the same way we should want to be treated.

Even though I am not a practicing Christian, I find it ironic that the icon behind the religion touted as being against gay marriage is actually the one who merrily instructed the disciple Mark to “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” Sorry, can’t get past youth and the King James Version!

Why do I mention this? Because what I find singularly and ironically lacking from the post-vote discussion and action is love. On either side.

We will never, ever get past the polarization on this issue, and on so many other problems plaguing our community and our nation, until we are ready to accept that many, on the other side of whatever issue it may be, believe genuinely, and just as strongly, in what they are propounding.

We must listen to learn. We must honor to have civil discourse. We must engage with affection, not resentment. And we must reach out with love, even while we are being spat on. Nothing is to be gained by responding to thoughtless hatred with thoughtful hatred.

Let's Save Marriage

Many proponents of Amendment One on Tuesday’s ballot see it as a way to support traditional marriage.  I’m wondering why all their efforts are focusing on how to prevent certain marriages (same sex, which are already against the law, btw), how to invalidate other stable, long-term relationships (non-married heterosexual couples), and how to undermine the structure and support of children of any of the couples listed above.

Prevent, invalidate, undermine.  These are all words designed to exclude or weaken.  Why not find ways to support marriage in a positive way?  Why not make divorce illegal?  If that seems a bit extreme, how about the legislature using some of the money taken from schools this year (and that being used to pay to put this amendment on the ballot) to pay for marriage counseling sessions?  Or pay for more job counseling and transitional housing for domestic violence victims?  

Let’s be a state that builds instead of destroys.  Let’s vote Tuesday to not write discrimination and narrow definitions into our constitution.  Let’s not concern ourselves with the private lives of our fellow citizens; instead let’s look to all North Carolinians to contribute to a healthy economy where children get a great education, where a history of discrimination is one we’ve learned from. 

As Americans, we all know what it’s like to be hated by some for who we are.  Why would we turn that inward on our fellow countrymen?  The savviest way to spend your vote this Tuesday is to vote no on Amendment One.

People Are People

I promise this is still a column about music, even though it may not appear that way at first.  I don’t consider myself to be an authority on much of anything else, and most days, not even on music, but I love it so I write about it.  These days, however, something else has been weighing heavily on my mind, so this is a good avenue for expressing my thoughts on it.  Amendment One is staring us all in the face.  A lot of folks, including me, have taken advantage of early voting, and, of course, it’s time for the actual Primary Day.  Some people like to wait until that actual day to get to the polls, and that’s cool.  Sadly, though, some don’t vote at all, and that really disturbs me.  Especially this time, with the Proposal for Amendment One on the ballot. 

Why certain legislators have chosen to lead this effort to insert discrimination into the Constitution is beyond me.  On the surface of it, it simply says that “Marriage in North Carolina shall only be recognized only if it’s between one man and one woman.”  Well, guess what?  That’s already on the books in North Carolina. So all those people who have distaste, distrust, and disgust with anyone who happens to be gay want to put this so-called amendment into law, to try and take away the possibility that same-sex marriages might someday be declared okay here in North Carolina.  Some people are so worried about this that they’re willing to put some special language (extremely poorly written as it is) into the law, because they’re so afraid that the institution of marriage is going to crumble,  My marriage isn’t threatened by the possibility of same-sex couples declaring their love for one another.  Is yours?  I really don’t care who you choose to love…that’s up to you.  And I’m not interested in writing into law some hateful and hurtful language to make sure homosexual couples can’t join the land of the married.  People are people. Why do we have to hate each other?

My concern is that thousands of registered voters will go the polls, not really understanding what implications Amendment One would have.  It’s not as simple as whether you approve of same-sex couples.  It’s far more complicated.  As I understand it, this proposal would also affect heterosexual couples, who live together, without being married.  Same-sex marriages are not legal anywhere in North Carolina as it is, but some communities such as ours recognize “domestic partnerships.”  And with that designation come certain advantages, such as the opportunity to have insurance coverage together, to care for children together, etc. Supporters of Amendment One want to get rid of that, too.  Some people say they’re supporting Amendment One on religious grounds.  Is it really the Christian thing to do to take away insurance benefits, which will hurt children all over the state?  Many religious leaders have come out in opposition to Amendment One.  How do you explain that? 

Victims of domestic violence will no longer have the same rights they have now.  Amendment One would also affect some senior citizens.  There are other implications, too, and I hope everybody will do research on this and find out all there is to know about it, and not just go blindly into the polling place and vote “Yes.”  Sadly, that’s what many citizens of our state will do.  Some supporters of Amendment One are claiming that passage wouldn’t have anything to do with any of this—that it’s simply declaring that marriage can only be between one man and one woman—but again, that’s already the law in North Carolina…which makes all of this so totally unnecessary.  Is this really what the people of North Carolina want?  If Amendment One passes, a lot of things would change, but you know what would change if it fails?  Nothing.

There are even economic reasons for voting against Amendment One.  Why would we want to portray North Carolina’s image to the world as a state that would write discrimination into law? …Discrimination against its own people!  IN these difficult economic times, we’re trying to recruit businesses to come to our community and open up business here in North Carolina.  How likely would the passing of Amendment One be to influence the decisions of business executives who want to come here and set up shop?  And how many businesses that are already here would consider packing up and moving to another state?  Here in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, we want to be known as an inclusive community, here for the benefit of everyone.  We say we welcome everyone, regardless of their marital status or sexual orientation.  Amendment One would accomplish just the opposite of that!  Is that really the way we want to be seen?  As a state that offers great opportunities but only to certain people?  Come on.

Actually, I’m not too worried about the voters of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, and Orange County.  I STILL haven’t seen my first “Vote FOR the Amendment” yard sign here in our community.  And if you see one here, it’s definitely in the minority. What really worries me, though, is when I see so many of those signs in other communities.  I’ve seen a lot of them in Raleigh, and my initial thought when I see one is “Really?  Do you even know what it means?  What it would do?”  I’m convinced that a lot of people who say they’re FOR it, don’t really understand it.  And surveys have shown that people are much less likely to be FOR it once it’s explained to them exactly what it is and what it would do.  At the time of this writing, however, the majority of people who’ve been polled on this, claim to be FOR it.  It’s not our local community that worries me–it’s the rest of North Carolina that worries me.

Yeah…I’ve still got lots of music in my head.  And I will definitely get back to writing about those songs in my next column.  But I hope you don’t mind my getting this off my chest.  I just HAD to speak out.  And if writing this results in just one person who is now FOR it deciding to vote AGAINST it, it will have been worth it.  So thanks for indulging me for a few minutes. One last thing:  Don’t forget to vote.  It’s extremely important.

Closing Arguments Against Amendment One

When it comes to public life, there is a concept I learned from great North Carolinians such as the late Terry Sanford and former Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Dickson Phillips, as well as from my parents: being right when it matters.  Because members of the General Assembly failed the test of being right when it matters all North Carolina citizens are now forced to decide whether they are for or AGAINST what is known as Amendment One and whether they will take the time to cast their vote.

What each of us does right now on Amendment One matters.  I am voting against Amendment One because I know so many wonderful families headed by same-sex parents, because I know its passage will hurt North Carolina’s business climate, because I know the autonomy of religious institutions to define marriage as they see fit (a right I strongly support) is not at issue. 

There are more reasons, many more, I could give for being AGAINST Amendment One.  But I think its more helpful for me to give the link to a website with great information about the campaign AGAINST Amendment One.   In addition, I’ve given three leading voices in the campaign AGAINST Amendment One the opportunity to making a “closing argument” as to why the referendum should be defeated.  Please listen, share with others and, above all, please vote AGAINST Amendment One.

You can listen to the show by clicking here and playing Hampton’s April 11, 2012 show.