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ASHEVILLE, N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper and other state officials have formally responded to a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of North Carolina s marriage laws on the grounds of religious freedom, arguing against the plaintiff s request for a preliminary injunction.

Plaintiffs in the case requested swift action from the court due to the immediate and irreparable harms that discriminatory marriage laws inflict upon same-sex couples and clergy as long as the laws remain in effect.

But the Attorney General s office argued that the preliminary injunction should be denied, and that the state s interest in following the law as written outweighs the plaintiffs interest in obtaining immediate relief from discriminatory laws.

We are sorely disappointed that the State of North Carolina continues to deny equal rights to all of its citizens, said Jacob Sussman, an attorney at Tin Fulton Walker & Owen, and lead counsel in the case. Fifteen federal courts in recent months have made clear emphatically and unequivocally that it is unconstitutional for state governments to discriminate against loving and committed couples who want the benefits and security that marriage provides.

The North Carolina Attorney General s office, representing the state in the case, has requested that the court grant a stay, or if it does not, that the court deny the motion for a preliminary injunction. If granted, a stay could mean that all proceedings in the case would come to a halt.

Similar motions have been granted in other North Carolina cases challenging same-sex marriage laws, as courts are hesitant to rule on this issue until a ruling is made in Bostic v. Rainey, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is now considering. That case is a federal challenge to Virginia s ban on same-sex marriage.

North Carolina plaintiffs Carol Taylor and Betty Mack, who both attend the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, say they have been in a committed relationship since 1973, and have a close relationship with their pastor, Rev. Mark Ward, who is also a plaintiff in the case.

When you re in your 70s you don t feel as if you have a lot of time left, Mack said. We would really like to be married in North Carolina and become legitimate in the eyes of this state as we would be in many others.

The state s response argues that granting an injunction would alter the status quo by allowing same-sex couples to marry in North Carolina.

Plaintiffs have alleged only that they fear that their performance of religious ceremonies for same-sex couples is illegal in North Carolina, and may expose them to criminal prosecution and a civil fine, the response reads. Plaintiffs did not allege that any of the named Defendants, or any other North Carolina state officials, have actually threatened any member of the clergy with prosecution for performing commitment ceremonies, blessings or other purely religious rituals.

Cooper has said he personally supports marriage equality, but that his personal views would not prevent him from vigorously defending North Carolina s constitutional amendment against such marriages in state lawsuits.

The court could rule on the preliminary injunction in the coming weeks. Magistrate Judge David Keesler has set a schedule for initial motions in the case. The state s answer is due June 23.
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