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N.C. attorney general to drop state’s defense of same-sex marriage ban

Updated: 6:30 p.m. EDT

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s attorney general said Monday his office will no longer defend the state’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in court after a federal appeals court ruled a similar prohibition in neighboring Virginia unconstitutional.

Attorney General Roy Cooper (R-N.C.)
Attorney General Roy Cooper (D-N.C.)

At a news conference little more than two hours after the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was announced in Richmond, Virginia, Attorney General Roy Cooper said the ruling made it highly likely North Carolina’s ban will be overturned. North Carolina is part of the 4th Circuit.

Cooper, a Democrat, said further opposition to the four federal lawsuits challenging his state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would be “futile.”

“Our attorneys have vigorously defended North Carolina marriage law, which is their job,” Cooper said. “But today we know our law almost surely will be overturned as well. Simply put, it is 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.”

Cooper had previously stated his personal opposition to the marriage ban, but said it was his duty as an elected official to defend the state constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2012. He said his decision Monday doesn’t mean same-sex marriages in North Carolina can begin immediately. That would take a judge’s ruling. But since the 4th Circuit includes North Carolina, he said any federal judge in the state would be bound by the ruling out of Virginia.

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Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriages.

“Our office, along with other attorneys general and state attorneys across the country, have made about every legal argument imaginable,” Cooper said. “Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Windsor case, all the federal courts have rejected these arguments each and every time. So it’s time for the State of North Carolina to stop making them.”

The U.S. Supreme Court could have at least five appellate decisions to consider if it takes up gay marriage again in its next term, beginning in October.

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