Guilford Co. couples gather in hopeful anticipation of gay marriage ban being overturned today

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Couples gathered at the Guilford Co. Register of Deeds office Thursday morning in anticipation of North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban being lifted — possibly today.

A federal judge in North Carolina has lifted stays in two cases challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriages, a possible sign he’s preparing to strike down the prohibition as unconstitutional. Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen confirmed that Chief U.S. District Court Judge William L. Osteen, Jr., worked well into the evening getting paperwork ready to file today.

“Assuming we get the judicial order and once we verify it, we expect to immediately get new marriage forms from Raleigh — and immediately begin accepting same-sex marriage applications and issuing licenses,” Thigpen said.

Osteen on Wednesday issued an order lifting his earlier stays and dismissing all motions in the cases. The move came after the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper filed documents with the court essentially dropping all further defense of the 2012 ban approved by voters.

Judge Osteen had issued the stays in July, after Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban was struck down by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which has jurisdiction over North Carolina.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear appeals of a July ruling striking down Virginia’s gay marriage ban, which is almost identical to the one in North Carolina.

Legal motions from ACLU lawyers and the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office obtained Wednesday show both sides agree that the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision overturning Virginia’s gay marriage ban should also be applied to North Carolina. That clears away legal hurdles for the plaintiffs in the case.

ACLU attorneys were expected to file a new motion with Chief U.S. District Judge William L. Osteen in Greensboro Wednesday this evening, and it is widely expected that he will rule North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional.

Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly are pledging to fight, but legal experts we spoke to Wednesday do not see a legal way forward.

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