North Carolina's odious Amendment One, which wrote a ban on same-sex marriage into the state constitution, could be deep-sixed later this year when the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on whether to uphold a Virginia federal judge's order striking down that state's gay marriage ban. The chances are pretty good that the Fourth Circuit will let that ruling stand, given that it has a majority of Democratic-appointed judges. But three North Carolina couples aren't wanting to wait for the Fourth Circuit. Citing health concerns with one partner in each couple, earlier today they filed suit in federal court seeking an immediate end to North Carolina's ban. Given the ramifications, I'm reposting from yesterday.
The appeals court decision, which legal experts say likely would apply to the Carolinas and West Virginia, could come by fall.One of the plaintiffs is Esmerelda Mejia, a Desert Storm veteran from Hickory who has battled cervical and lung cancer since 1992. She and her partner of 19 years, Christina Ginter-Mejia, have a seven-year-old adopted son. However, North Carolina only recognizes Christina as the boy's mother, even though they were legally married in Maryland last year. They can't get any of Esmerelda's veterans' benefits as long as North Carolina refuses to recognize their marriage. Additionally, Christina has not been able to go on family leave to be there for Esmerelda's numerous procedures. Esmerelda fears she may not survive the next one, and wants North Carolina to recognize her as Christina's wife.
Given the health issues affecting the couples, that’s too long to wait, said Chris Brook, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which helped file a motion today for immediate court relief.
“While we are exceptionally encouraged and heartened by the Virginia case, there’s no set timeline on when the Fourth Circuit could rule,” Brook said.
“These couples are being harmed now. That’s why we’re filing. We believe their marriages should be recognized today. Not in a few months. Not in a few years. That may be too late.”
The stories of the other two plaintiffs, profiled here, are no less gut-wrenching. One of the nominal lead plaintiffs, Pearl Berlin, has been hospitalized several times in the last three years. However, her partner of almost 48 years, Lonnie Gerber, hasn't been able to be with her in the hospital for much of that time even though they were legally married in Maine last year. Jane Blackburn and Lyn McCoy have been together since 1991 and were legally married in DC in 2011. Blackburn has Stage IV breast cancer, and wants North Carolina to recognize her marriage to McCoy before she dies.
There's already a challenge to Amendment One pending before federal judge William Osteen. By all accounts, though, Osteen is waiting for the Fourth Circuit to rule on the Virginia case. That ruling may not come until the fall, though. Hopefully this latest suit will go somewhere.