What The Supreme Court's Decision On Same-Sex Marriage Will Mean For North Carolina

What The Supreme Court's Decision On Same-Sex Marriage Will Mean For North Carolina

5:22pm Jun 25, 2015

The Supreme Court is expected to rule on same-sex marriage any day now. The case is complicated and could affect different states in different ways. North Carolina is one of a handful of states where same-sex marriage is currently legal because of an earlier federal court decision which overturned North Carolina's ban. 

The Supreme Court is answering two questions: 

Question 1: Can states ban same-sex marriage? (States might do this by passing legislation or a state constitutional amendment.)

Question 2: If states can ban same-sex marriage, can states also not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states? (Such marriages may have been legalized by state legislation, a state court decision, or popular vote.) 

So what will it mean for North Carolina when the Supreme Court decides? It will come down to three likely scenarios. 

Option 1: The Court could answer NO to both questions, which would make same-sex marriage legal nationwide. 

Option 2:  It could answer YES to both questions. That would allow states to ban same-sex marriage and say states don’t have to recognize same-sex marriages performed by other states.  For North Carolina, that could call into question the marriages that were permitted during the time after the federal court decision overturning the state's ban. 

Wake Forest political professor John Dinan says he thinks it's likely that those marriages would remain valid. 

"But, presumably, the ban on recognizing same-sex marriages would be reinstated at that point. Then we would have a situation where North Carolina would rejoin the status that it was up until last year of not recognizing same-sex marriages," says Dinan. 

Option 3: This could be a mix of the other two options, saying YES to question 1 and NO to question 2. That would mean states have the right to ban same-sex marriage, but must recognize marriages performed in other states. 

This decision would also raise some difficult issues. As with Scenario 2, it would call into question the status of the same-sex marriages entered into prior to the decision. Couples would have to travel to states where same-sex marriage is legal to get married, but their home states would have to recognize the marriages when they return.

It can be difficult to know how the Supreme Court will decide on the matter. John Dinan says there is a good reason, though, to think the Court will legalize same-sex marriage across the nation.

"Basically people expected that once a federal court decision came down that said that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage falls, as it did last fall, and once the US Supreme Court declined to review that decision, the strong expectation is that’s a signal that the US Supreme Court was prepared to recognize a nationwide right to same-sex marriage," says Dinan.

Residents in North Carolina are divided on the subject. According to a recent poll from Elon University, 54 percent say that decision should be left up to the states. 


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