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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — A Catholic priest has defended his decision to cancel a Black History Month speech by a high school's black lesbian alumna as well as his decision to cancel classes that day, saying he had to protect students from planned protests over the woman's views on gay marriage.

Immaculate Conception Church pastor Rev. Chris VanHaight described Durham City Councilwoman Vernetta Alston in news reports as "a strong black woman" but a "problematic" choice because she's a pro-gay marriage politician.

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Alston has said the cancellation sends a "sad, regressive and life-altering message" to children.

VanHaight said he regrets Alston was disrespected, but he's responsible for upholding Catholic teachings. He also said the school won't invite politicians in the near future.

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