Besides clearing a very important hurdle to equality, the court ruling on Monday that overturned Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage served as an opportunity for power-seeking Democrats and Republicans in North Carolina to capture some headlines.
After the decision was announced, state Attorney General and Gov. McCrory’s likely opponent in 2016 Roy Cooper immediately took to a podium to say his office would no longer defend North Carolina’s ban, known as Amendment One. “It’s time to stop making arguments we will lose and instead move forward knowing that the ultimate resolution will likely come from the U.S. Supreme Court.” Soon after, Senate-vying Thom Tillis quickly “reminded the public” that it’s the attorney general’s job to defend the law of the land.
Pundits began to wonder aloud how important the debate over marriage equality in North Carolina would be during the potential matchup between McCrory, who's remained mostly silent on the matter and Cooper, who has denounced Amendment One despite having to defend it in a professional capacity.
Despite the energy behind it now and when Amendment One passed, Republican and Democratic strategists contend marriage equality will be a moot point in this state long before 2016. Word is the U.S. Supreme Court will likely rule in favor of universal marriage equality in a year, said strategists in separate interviews.
“I think [Cooper] needed to get out of this situation,” said Thomas Mills, a nationally renowned Democratic strategist based in Raleigh. “He was getting a lot of pressure from progressives to not defend the ban, and the Fourth Circuit decision gave him a way out. I just think the issue is about to be out of the way, one way or another. Now he gives the progressive wing of the Democratic party permission to fully embrace him.”
But it won’t energize the progressive base in two years. “We still may be waiting for a Supreme Court decision, but there’s going to be a general acceptance that this [debate] is over,” Mills said.
McCrory has mostly stayed out of the argument; he knows by now that taking a public stance on something that quietly divides his party would be a tactical error. “We’re going to start seeing this move in a generational way toward more acceptance,” said Republican strategist and Charlotte attorney Larry Sheehan. “It would be wise for Republicans to continue to wait to see what the [Supreme Court] decides to do ... it’s going to be very important for the Republicans in this country to not bash the Supreme Court and to not politicize an issue of law.”
So marriage equality won’t be a hot topic, but that won’t make the horse race any less interesting. Thanks to redistricting, Democrats have mostly given up on reclaiming any seats in the General Assembly and will focus their energy on recapturing the governor’s mansion, and Republicans will fight tooth and nail to maintain their super-majority. Considering the stakes for both parties, Sheehan predicts North Carolina’s gubernatorial race will be the most important in the country.
Saddle up, ladies and gents.