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Lawsuit challenges gay marriage law in North Carolina

Backers of the law say that it protects religious freedom and that government employees should be allowed religious accommodation if marrying same-sex couples runs counter to their beliefs.

The law, pushed by Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, was filed when several magistrates resigned shortly after federal judges in October 2014 struck down North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. The state’s top court administrator said at the time that magistrates who declined to officiate for same-sex couples could be fired or face criminal charges.

The plaintiffs include two same-sex couples. One of them, Kay Ansley and Cathy McGaughey, helped overturn in court North Carolina’s 2012 constitutional ban. The third couple, a white woman and black man, successfully sued in the mid-1970s when Forsyth County magistrates refused to marry them on religious grounds, according to the lawsuit.

The religious objection law has required officials in McDowell County, about 75 miles northwest of Charlotte, to bring in magistrates from adjoining Rutherford County because several McDowell magistrates have opted out of marriages under the law.

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