City officials in Winston-Salem, North Carolina have decided to defy the state’s marriage statutes and constitutional amendment by recognizing out-of-state same-sex “marriages” for the purposes of the city benefits program. The Winston-Salem Human Resources Department made the announcement in an August 28 memo to all city employees that states in part, “the City of Winston-Salem will change the definition of marriage to recognize marriage licenses from any State or U.S. jurisdiction, regardless of sex, for all City benefit programs.” The memo justifies the policy by pointing to the recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that struck down Virginia’s marriage protection laws, and to “the North Carolina Attorney General’s recent statement” regarding his decision to no longer defend North Carolina’s marriage laws in light of that 4th Circuit ruling.
What the memo fails to mention is that the Fourth Circuit’s decision is currently on hold due to a stay issued by the U.S. Supreme Court last month. That means the Fourth Circuit ruling has no immediate impact on Virginia or any other state in the Fourth Circuit’s jurisdiction, including North Carolina. Furthermore, despite the Attorney General’s refusal to defend North Carolina’s marriage protection laws, these laws remain intact, and no North Carolina state or federal court has ruled against them.
Regardless, Winston-Salem city officials have taken it upon themselves to act outside of their legal authority by attempting to redefine North Carolina’s marriage laws for the purposes of their city benefits program. By doing so, they are not only ignoring North Carolina’s statutes and constitution, but also the will of 61 percent of North Carolinians who voted in 2012 to preserve marriage in the state constitution as only the union of one man and one woman.