WASHINGTON — On the heels of the news that North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper supports marriage equality, a local official in the state plans to ask Cooper whether his office believes the state's marriage laws unconstitutionally ban same-sex couples from marrying.
"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," Buncombe County Register of Deeds Drew Reisinger said in a statement Tuesday. "I have concerns about whether we are violating people's civil rights based on this summer's Supreme Court decision.
In an ongoing lawsuit against the state, Cooper, a Democrat, told the Associated Press that, despite his support for marriage equality, he will continue to defend the state's ban on same-sex couples' marrying in the lawsuit. Voters in the state passed an amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying in May 2012.
Reisinger's response to the campaign will press Cooper on another front — directly facing him with the question of whether he believes the law is constitutional. Although his office could try to sidestep the question — saying that it isn't his role to determine the constitutionality of the law, particularly when the question has been raised in other litigation — it is a sign that, even in the South, there are officials like Reisinger who are willing to push the envelope in support of marriage equality.
[Update at 7:15 p.m.: Cooper spokeswoman Noelle Talley said that Reisinger's request will go nowhere.
"The State Constitution says that these marriage licenses cannot be issued and this is the law unless the Constitution is changed or the court says otherwise. This very issue is the subject of pending litigation against the State of North Carolina," Talley said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed.]
According to a statement Monday evening from the Campaign for Southern Equality, the group informed Reisinger on Monday that at least six same-sex couples would request marriage licenses Tuesday. Unlike other times the Campaign has gone to seek marriage licenses across the South, however, Reisinger has announced that he will allow the couples to complete and sign their applications. He will accept the applications, his office has stated, but withhold his own signature.
"I will then let the Attorney General know that I would like to issue these couples licenses, but that I need his clarification on the laws of the state that seem to contradict the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution," Reisinger said.
Brenda Clark who, with her partner Carol McCrory, will apply for a license in Buncombe County tomorrow as part of the WE DO Campaign, said in a statement, "We are hopeful that Attorney General Cooper will do the right thing and recognize our right to marry after 25 years in a committed relationship and having raised 2 kids together."
Notably, and unlike a local official in Pennsylvania, Reisinger's move both affirms his own support for marriage equality and defers to state officials for making the final determination about whether same-sex couples can receive marriage licenses currently in North Carolina.
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.