North Carolina GOP leaders file brief hoping to thwart gay marriage ruling

North CarolinaSenate leader Phil Berger (left) and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

North CarolinaSenate leader Phil Berger (left) and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

RALEIGH, N.C. — Lawyers for North Carolina Republican leaders on Friday filed a legal brief urging a federal judge to allow them to intervene in a pair of cases seeking to overturn the state’s gay marriage ban.

North CarolinaSenate leader Phil Berger (left) and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

North CarolinaSenate leader Phil Berger (left) and House Speaker Thom Tillis.

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger filed their answer shortly before a noon deadline imposed by Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. in Greensboro. Osteen denied a request late Thursday from the Republicans seeking an eight-day delay to prepare their arguments.

Osteen appears poised to strike down the marriage ban approved by North Carolina voters in 2012, issuing an order Wednesday lifting his stays and dismissing all prior motions. The GOP leaders are seeking to intervene after state Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, concluded that all possible legal defenses had been exhausted.

The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which represents nine same-sex couples challenging the ban, has filed a request seeking a quick ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear appeals of decisions striking down similar marriage prohibitions in other states.

Osteen has delayed making a decision since July, when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Virginia‘s gay marriage ban. The appeals court in Richmond has jurisdiction over North Carolina, and Osteen is required to follow its ruling.

The Republican lawmakers are not party to the lawsuits, which have been winding their way through the courts for more than a year. Osteen would have to rule to give them standing.

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In their filings Friday, lawyers for the Republican leaders asked for a hearing before the judge. They say the recent 4th Circuit ruling is in error and that Osteen should follow the precedent set in a 40-plus-year-old Supreme Court ruling upholding a Minnesota law requiring that marriage be between a man and woman.

However, the GOP brief appears to ignore the high court’s 2013 decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. That ruling is cited by the 4th Circuit and other courts that have struck down marriage bans like the one in North Carolina.

The Republicans also are seeking to intervene in a third case filed by members of the clergy seeking to marry gay couples. That U.S. District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr., in Asheville.

Despite the last-minute legal effort by Tillis and Berger, public officials across the state are preparing for an expected surge of same-sex couples seeking to get married if a ruling comes down ending the state ban.

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