The ACLU said its effort to challenge the North Carolina marriage ban adopted by voters in May 2012 starts by seeking to expand an existing federal lawsuit against a state law that same-sex couples cannot be recognized as equal parents of children. That lawsuit was filed in federal court in Greensboro on behalf of six North Carolina same-sex couples who support so-called second parent adoptions.
North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is defending the state adoption law. The ACLU said it is asking the Democrat to agree to allow the civil-rights group to tack on a new claim challenging the state's same-sex marriage ban. A Cooper spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
If Cooper declines, state ACLU legal director Christopher Brooks said, the group will ask the court to expand its lawsuit.
In May 2012, six in 10 North Carolina voters backed amending the state constitution to make it much harder to reverse an already-existing state ban of gay marriages. President Barack Obama said in an interview the following day that his view of gay marriage had evolved and he now supports it.
NC Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald, who helped lead a coalition of Christian and conservative groups that led to North Carolina becoming the 30th state to adopt such a constitutional ban, was not immediately available for comment.
The ACLU's move comes less than two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the federal law blocking married same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits as heterosexual spouses. Same-sex marriage is legal, or soon will be, in 13 states and the District of Columbia.
The ACLU on Tuesday also filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania challenging that state's same-sex marriage ban, and said it will do the same in Virginia. Same-sex couples in New Mexico and Arkansas filed similar legal challenges to state laws last week.
"I think it was only a matter of time" before North Carolina's marriage ban was challenged, said Shana Carignan of Greensboro, who is half of one of the couples suing the state over its adoption law. "We're fighting for family rights, and it's hard to consider us a family if you don't consider us a legal entity."
Carignan's partner, Megan Parker, adopted a boy in 2010 who has cerebral palsy, is unable to talk and had been living in a foster home. State law does not recognize Carignan as a co-parent to Jax, the fact being challenged by the ACLU's existing lawsuit.
When Jax had to have surgery three years ago, the hospital didn't allow Carignan to stay past visiting hours without Parker also being there, Carignan said. That meant they couldn't take turns spending the night at the hospital with the boy, who is now 5 and headed into kindergarten.
Carignan, 30, said she and Parker, 34, were legally married in Massachusetts last year, but their bond is not recognized in North Carolina.
"I just think it's very important that people be able to have that validation - that we are married and that we are a family unit because of it," Carignan said.
Craig and Shawn Long have been together 19 years and have had a son for six years.
They said they don't just want their marriage to be recognized legally in North Carolina for themselves, but also for their son.
"We want him to have the same protections other families in North Carolina have," said Shawn Long. "We want him to know he has a family that is valued by the state, that the government supports him. We don't want him to have a fear that he could be taken away from us."