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GOP lawmakers getting legal help with NC same-sex marriage case

By Gary D. Robertson
Associated Press
phil berger w/76
Chuck Liddy - cliddy@newsobserver.com
State Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham)

Republican legislative leaders said Friday that they are getting outside legal help related to a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on gay marriage, suggesting they aren’t convinced Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper can wholeheartedly defend the state in the case.

An attorney with the Alliance Defending Freedom is providing pro bono help for Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, Berger spokeswoman Amy Auth said. The alliance was founded 20 years ago by several conservative Christian leaders.

The General Assembly isn’t formally intervening right now in the lawsuit, which challenges the legality of a constitutional amendment put on the ballot by legislators and approved easily by voters in a May 2012 referendum. But its leaders want eyes on the case to review how Cooper’s office is defending the amendment in court, the offices of Tillis and Berger announced in a news release.

Cooper’s critics have questioned his effectiveness in lawsuits after he announced his support for gay marriage and his opposition to election law changes that are also being challenged. Gov. Pat McCrory and the legislature already have outside counsel for the election lawsuits, citing similar reasons. Cooper is also plans to run for governor in 2016.

Cooper’s “own actions have raised legitimate concerns about his ability to uphold his oath of office,” Berger and Tillis wrote. “It’s unfortunate we have to take this step to ensure the voters’ strong support for a constitutional amendment protecting marriage is defended.”

Cooper has said repeatedly he can separate personal views from professional obligations, pointing to other cases in which his office has defended the state effectively.

Cooper’s office didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment Friday, but spokeswoman Noelle Talley told WRAL-TV staff attorneys that the Attorney General’s office is “successfully defending the state in this case and will continue to work diligently to do so.”

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which focuses on protecting religious liberties, was created by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, the late Rev. D. James Kennedy and Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright, among others.

The North Carolina Values Coalition, which supported the amendment’s passage, praised the decision of legislative leaders, saying Cooper “has compromised the position of the state in the lawsuit” filed by the ACLU.

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