North Carolina GOP leaders hire NOM chairman to help block gay marriages

John Eastman

John Eastman AP

Updated: 5:35 p.m. EDT

RALEIGH, N.C. — As same-sex couples in North Carolina await federal court rulings they hope will allow them to get married, Republican legislative leaders made a last-minute move Thursday to block or delay the nuptials.

John EastmanAP

John Eastman

House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger filed a motion seeking to intervene in legal challenges to the state’s gay marriage ban approved by voters in 2012. They also asked for a one-week delay to file additional documents.

The GOP legislators have hired California lawyer John C. Eastman, chairman of the conservative National Organization for Marriage.

Berger spokeswoman Shelly Carver said Eastman has agreed to forgo his first $10,000 in legal fees. After that, he will be paid $400 an hour.

American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina legal director Chris Brook criticized the move as a waste of taxpayer funds.

“The legislature has had more than a year to intervene in this matter if they felt their interests were not adequately represented, and failed to do so,” said Brook, who represents nine same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry and adopt children. “The result here is no longer in doubt. … The legislature should quit playing politics by seeking to defend the indefensible.”

Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, said in a debate earlier this week he felt obligated to defend the will of North Carolina voters against “liberal activist judges” appointed by President Barack Obama.

The recent rulings striking down gay marriage bans across the nation as unconstitutional have been handed down by federal judges appointed by presidents from both parties. While North Carolina’s prohibition remains popular with religiously conservative voters, recent polls show increasing support and acceptance for same-sex marriage.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. in Greensboro, an appointee of President George W. Bush, appears ready to strike down North Carolina’s ban after issuing an order Wednesday lifting his stays and dismissing all motions in the two cases he oversees. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, ended the state’s defense of the ban after concluding all possible legal defenses have been exhausted.

The ACLU filed a request seeking a quick ruling after the U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday it would not hear appeals to lower court rulings striking down similar marriage bans in other states. Osteen has delayed making a decision since July, when Virginia‘s same-sex marriage ban was struck down by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. That court has jurisdiction over North Carolina and its decision is binding on Osteen.

In a third challenge filed by members of the clergy seeking to marry gay couples, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger in Asheville removed himself from the case Thursday, transferring it to District Court Judge Max O. Cogburn, Jr.

Tillis and Berger plan to file a motion to intervene in that case, as well.

“This threatened eleventh hour effort to intervene is strange, to say the least,” said Jake Sussman, a Charlotte lawyer representing the religious groups. “We are close to the end of this litigation and ready to banish Amendment One to the dustpan of history. We believe this is an unnecessary use of taxpayer money and judicial resources and seeks only to delay the inevitable”.

Tillis and Berger are currently not party to any of the lawsuits. They will need to file motions with Osteen and Cogburn seeking to intervene, while the judges would have to rule to give them standing.

Sussman and Brook said they will oppose efforts by Tillis and Berger to intervene.

Judge rejects GOP lawmakers’ delay

Update: 10:15 p.m. EDT

RALEIGH, N.C. — The federal judge overseeing a pair of challenges to North Carolina’s gay marriage ban denied a motion late Thursday from lawyers for Republican legislative leaders seeking more than a weeklong delay in the case.

Chief U.S. District Court Judge William Osteen Jr. in Greensboro issued a ruling shooting down a request from House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger that they be given until Oct. 17 to prepare arguments supporting their motion to intervene in the lawsuits.

Instead, Osteen gave them until noon Friday. Full report here

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