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Attorney General Roy Cooper asks judge to delay new same-sex marriage case

Attorney General Roy Cooper, the target of several challenges to North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban, has asked a judge to delay the most recent lawsuit until a higher court rules on a more sweeping marriage case.

Last week, the ACLU of North Carolina and other groups sued Cooper and several state officials on behalf of three same-sex couples – one from Hickory – who are dealing with serious medical issues. Those health concerns require quick action by a court to overturn the state bans on same-sex marriages for insurance, adoption and health care purposes, the suit claims.

The groups first sued to challenge North Carolina’s marriage laws in 2012, two months after state voters passed a constitutional ban against same-sex unions, widely known as “Amendment One.”

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake gave Cooper and the other defendants until April 28 to respond to the new suit. The ACLU and other plaintiffs have until May 5 to file any reaction to the defendants’ arguments.

That would fall within days of a May hearing before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on whether Virginia’s marriage ban is unconstitutional. A ruling, which legal experts say will almost certainly apply to Virginia, West Virginia and the Carolinas, is expected later this year.

In a filing the same day of Peake’s order, Cooper said the new North Carolina case should be delayed, given how soon the Fourth Circuit judges are to act.

The higher court’s ruling “will certainly impact, potentially resolve and could serve as binding precedent” for the North Carolina cases, Cooper and his assistants wrote.

They said delaying the North Carolina case would eliminate any conflict with the Fourth Circuit ruling and keep the state from “prematurely voiding” a part of its constitution until the marriage issue is settled for good.

Same-sex marriage challenges have sprung up across the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last summer. That ruling changed how the federal government handles same-sex marriage, but did not affect state laws. At least one of the cases now winding through the federal courts is widely expected to end up at the U.S. Supreme Court for another ruling, this time on what states can do.

In February, a federal judge struck down Virginia’s marriage ban. On May 13, the Fourth Circuit will hear arguments on whether that ruling should stand. If it does, the appellate judges are expected to also eliminate marriage bans in the five states they oversee. Only Maryland allows same-sex marriages in the Fourth Circuit’s jurisdiction.

Cooper, who is expected to run for governor in 2016, says he personally opposes North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban. As attorney general, however, he says he must defend state laws in court.

Gordon: 704-358-5095
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