RALEIGH, North Carolina — The U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states doesn't change what's been happening in North Carolina, since federal judges last October overturned the state's constitutional amendment that limited marriage to a man and a woman.
County officials have been presiding over gay marriages since Oct. 10. Legal challenges seeking to preserve the amendment's validity — approved by 61 percent of voters in May 2012 — will be moot. But lawmakers may soon face a legal fight over a new law that allows some court workers to refuse to participate in gay marriages.
Gay-rights advocates and same-sex couples celebrated the decision privately and publicly.
"This victory is one we will celebrate for years to come and yet there is so much more to be done," Equality North Carolina executive director Chris Sgro said at a Raleigh news conference. He said employment non-discrimination laws for LGBT citizens now must be passed in North Carolina. Equality NC scheduled "decision day" events Friday evening in at least eight cities.
Married gay couple Shawn Long and Craig Johnson of Wake Forest, who have been together for 21 years, were among the first couples to challenge North Carolina's ban in court. Long said they sued partly so that both can be legal parents to their 13-year-old son.
"And now it's thrilling to know that across the country, all kids will have that," Long said.
DISAPPOINTMENT & DEFIANCE
Social conservatives who helped pass the state's constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage lamented the decision. One key opponent said history would prove the decision wrong.
The majority ruling "will no more settle the issue of gay marriage than Roe v. Wade settled the issue of abortion," said Tami Fitzgerald with the North Carolina Values Coalition, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court case. She said there must be guarantees that "North Carolinians whose religious beliefs are violated by this decision will have the continuing freedom to act on their beliefs."
The Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham and leader of Boone-based Samaritan's Purse, said, "I pray God will spare America from his judgment, though, by our actions as a nation, we give him less and less reason to do so."
House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, called the decision "disappointing" but said they would work to ensure compliance with the ruling.
Berger and Moore had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their appeal of the lower court rulings, which were based on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling overturning Virginia's ban. Now the petitions will be denied and rulings will stand.
"The majority of North Carolina voters who define marriage as between one man and one woman deserved a final resolution from the Supreme Court," the leaders said.
McCrory didn't participate in these late appeals. He said Friday he believed marriage should be determined by the states and should be between a man and a woman, but that he'd ensure the rule of law was upheld.
Gay rights groups and Democrats in the legislature already are looking at challenging in court a new state law allowing magistrates and some register of deeds workers to refuse to participate in gay marriage duties based on their religious objections. They say the law is discriminatory and was enacted illegally.
The Republican-led General Assembly on June 11 overrode McCrory's veto of the bill. McCrory said no public official voluntarily taking an oath should be exempt from upholding their constitutional duties. Court employees who cite the objection will be unable to officiate at any marriage — gay and traditional.
Associated Press writer Emily Masters contributed to this report.