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N.C. county official plans to accept marriage applications from gay couples

N.C. county official plans to accept marriage applications from gay couples

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Buncombe County Register of Deeds says he’s going to accept marriage license applications from same-sex couples and seek an opinion from North Carolina’s top lawyer.

A 2012 amendment to North Carolina’s Constitution forbids same-sex couples from marrying. But Drew Reisinger said Monday he will hold the licenses and then ask state Attorney General Roy Cooper for legal advice.

Drew Reisinger
Drew Reisinger

“I am more than willing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples, but I want to have the legal clarification of my attorney general Roy Cooper,” Reisinger told The Associated Press.

He said he felt compelled to take action.

“I was frustrated turning down marriage licenses from upstanding citizens from my community again and again. I had a handful of friends come into my office and request licenses and we had to deny them specifically because of their sexual orientation. And I just didn’t feel like it was fair anymore,” Reisinger said.

“It reached a point where if we can legally grant marriage licenses to gay people, we would like to do that,” he said.

The initial word from the attorney general’s office was that he cannot legally grant the licenses.

Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Cooper, said in a written statement “these marriage licenses cannot be issued.”

“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.

The Campaign for Southern Equality has been going from county to county, trying to find someone to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples as part of its “We Do” campaign.

Group spokesman Aaron Sarver said at least six same-sex couples will show up Tuesday at the Register of Deeds office in Asheville to request marriage licenses.

The Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of the Campaign for Southern Equality, p raised Reisinger’s action, calling it “another step forward in the path to full equality for LGBT people.”

Reisinger’s announcement came hours after Cooper revealed he supports same-sex marriage. But Cooper also said his personal views won’t prevent him from defending North Carolina’s ban in court.

Cooper is named as a defendant and is the state’s lead designated attorney in a lawsuit filed by several same-sex couples that was recently expanded to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment in light of a U.S. Supreme Court decision over the summer.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriages.

This is the second time the Campaign for Southern Equality has targeted Asheville. The bohemian university town in western North Carolina has a large gay and lesbian population.

Two years ago, a same-sex couple was arrested after refusing to leave Reisinger’s office when the pair was turned down for a marriage license. The ar rests followed a downtown rally that drew about 300 people, where same-sex couples were blessed by clergy members.

Reisinger recalled that protest, and said it was now time to take action. He said he told the attorney general’s office last week he was planning to accept marriage licenses from same-sex couples.

When same-sex couples arrive at his office Tuesday morning, he said he will ask them to fill out the traditional forms, then send those papers to the attorney general’s office.

“If the attorney general says he will not allow me to issue marriage licenses, then I will respect the law of the land. But if he grants me permission to issue these marriage licenses, I will be excited to be the first in the South to make that happen,” he said.

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