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NC Sen. Hagan supports same-sex marriage; Burr calls it a state issue

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan spoke out Wednesday in support of same-sex marriages, saying the issue's "time has come and we need to move forward."

"Marriage equality is a complex issue with strong feelings on both sides, and I have a great deal of respect for varying opinions on the issue," Hagan said in a statement. "After much thought and prayer, I have come to my own personal conclusion that we shouldn't tell people who they can love or who they can marry."

Hagan, who had previously been among Democratic U.S. senators who had not voiced their opinion on the controversial subject, explained that she did not come to her decision "overnight."

"Religious institutions should have religious freedom on this issue. No church or minister should ever have to conduct a marriage that is inconsistent with their religious beliefs," Hagan said. "But I think as a civil institution, this issue's time has come and we need to move forward."

In 2012, Hagan announced her opposition to the so-called Amendment One, an amendment to North Carolina's Constitution that specifically defines marriage as between one man and one woman. Despite her opposition, 61 percent of North Carolina voters approved the amendment.

"I opposed Amendment One because I was concerned about the negative consequences it could have on North Carolina families and our economy," Hagan said. "The fabric of North Carolina and what makes our state so special is our families and our common desire for a brighter future for our children.

"No matter what your family looks like, we all want the same thing for our families -- happiness, health, prosperity, a bright future for our children and grandchildren."

Hagan's counterpart in the U.S. Senate, Republican Richard Burr, says same-sex marriage is an issue that should be left up to the individual states.

"Senator Burr feels that this is an issue that is best left at the discretion of the states," Burr's office said in a statement Wednesday.

In 2011, in response to President Barack Obama's announcement that he would not permit the Department of Justice to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, Burr described "traditional marriage" as a "core value ... that is protected by federal law."

"By ordering the Attorney General to stop defending federal law in court, the president is taking another step towards politicizing the Justice Department," Burr said at the time.

In the second of back-to-back gay marriage cases, the Supreme Court turned Wednesday to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, a constitutional challenge to the law that prevents legally married gay Americans from collecting federal benefits generally available to straight married couples.

A section of DOMA dictates that marriage may only be a relationship between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law, regardless of state laws that allow same-sex marriage.

Lower federal courts have struck down the measure, and now the justices, in nearly two hours of scheduled argument Wednesday, will consider whether to follow suit.

The DOMA argument follows Tuesday's case over California's ban on same-sex marriage, a case in which the justices indicated they might avoid a major national ruling on whether America's gays and lesbians have a right to marry. Even without a significant ruling, the court appeared headed for a resolution that would mean the resumption of gay and lesbian weddings in California.

Marital status is relevant in more than 1,100 federal laws that include estate taxes, Social Security survivor benefits and health benefits for federal employees. Lawsuits around the country have led four federal district courts and two appeals courts to strike down the law's Section 3, which defines marriage. In 2011, the Obama administration abandoned its defense of the law but continues to enforce it. House Republicans are now defending DOMA in the courts.

Same-sex marriage is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia. The states are Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington. It also was legal in California for less than five months in 2008.

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