Ansley v. Warren (SB2 lawsuit in NC)

Current status: SB2 remains on the books in North Carolina.


Case Name: Ansley v. Warren

Date Filed: March 17, 2016

What is SB2: In June 2015, the NC legislature passed SB2, making it legal for magistrates and register of deeds office staff to recuse themselves from performing marriage-related duties because of personal  religious beliefs that oppose same-sex marriage.

Plaintiffs: The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are: Diane Ansley and Cathy McGaughey, a married couple and taxpayers in McDowell County who were plaintiffs in General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Reisinger, which struck down Amendment One on October 10, 2014. Carol Ann Person and Thomas Person, a married couple and taxpayers in Moore County who were denied the ability to marry in 1976 after two magistrates in Forsyth County claimed that their religious beliefs against interracial marriage would not permit it. (A subsequent lawsuit resulted in a federal judge ordering that the magistrates in Forsyth County comply with Loving v. Virginia). Kelley Penn and Sonja Goodman, an engaged couple and taxpayers in Swain County.

Legal Team: The plaintiffs are represented by Jake Sussman, Luke Largess and Cheyenne Chambers of Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, a Charlotte-based law firm that led the legal challenge that struck down Amendment One; and by Meghann Burke, of Asheville-based firm Brazil & Burke.

Key updates: 

Ansley v. Warren challenges Senate Bill 2 under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. There are six plaintiffs in this federal lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 2, the North Carolina law passed in defiance of federal court orders that struck down Amendment One and declared that marriage is a fundamental right for gay and lesbian citizens. Download the full complaint in Ansley v. Warren here.

“Senate Bill 2 expressly declares that their religious beliefs are superior to their oath of judicial office to uphold and support the federal constitution. And the law spends public money to advance those religious beliefs. That is a straightforward violation of the First Amendment,” says Luke Largess, a partner at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen and lead counsel in Ansley v. Warren.

According to reports from August 2015, at least 32 magistrates across the state have thus far exempted themselves and Register of Deeds employees in 5 counties have done so, according to September 2015 data reported by the Administrative Office of the Courts and N.C. Association of Registers of Deeds. For a period in 2015, all McDowell County magistrates had exempted themselves and public funds are being used to bring in magistrates from a neighboring county for short shifts, during which local couples can be married.

In 2015, the state moved to dismiss the case. In May 2016, the plaintiffs filed a brief responding to the state’s move to dismiss. On August 8, 2016, Judge Cogburn held a hearing on whether plaintiffs have standing in the case. On September 21, Judge Cogburn ruled that plaintiffs do not have standing and our legal team immediately filed an appeal with the 4th Circuit.

Full list of documents:

May 10, 2017: Oral arguments at the 4th Circuit

February 10, 2017: Plaintiff’s Reply Brief to the 4th Circuit

November 21, 2016: Appeal Brief to 4th Circuit

August 8, 2016: Transcript from hearing in front of Judge Cogburn.

August 5, 2016: Plaintiffs’ Response to Proposed Intervenors’ Objections to the Magistrate’s Order Denying Their Motions to Intervene

May 31, 2016: Plaintiff’s Response to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss

May 19, 2016: Plaintiffs Brief in Opposition in Motion to Intervene

March 17, 2016: Ansley v. Warren complaint