Va. attorney general: State shouldn't ban gay marriage - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Va. attorney general: State shouldn't ban gay marriage

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Saying it's time for Virginia to be on the "right side of history and the right side of the law," the newly-elected attorney general announced he will not defend the constitutional amendment that bans gay marriage.

Democrat Mark Herring reversed the position of the previous attorney general, who planned on defending the Commonwealth in court challenges to the amendment which defines marriage as a union only between a man and a woman.

Voters in Virginia in 2006 decisively said "no" to gay marriage by amending the state constitution. The vote in favor was 57 percent.

That law is being challenged in court and Virginia's newly-elected attorney general has now filed papers indicating he agrees with the critics.

"Virginia's ban [on same-sex marriage] violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- that's the supreme law of the land," Herring told us in an interview. "I am obligated to follow the [federal] law under my duties as attorney general."

As a state senator, Herring voted in favor of the law defining marriage as between a man and a woman. It's a vote he now regrets.

"I saw how that vote hurt a lot of people," said Herring.

Gay marriage is now favored by a majority of Virginia voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll from last year. But repealing the amendment has no chance in the Republican-dominated House of Delegates. That is why proponents are going to the federal courts for help. Whether a state can ban gay marriage will likely wind up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The shift from the attorney general's office immediately sparked debate in the state's House of Delegates, with Democrats defending Herring, and Republicans, like Prince William County's Bob Marshall, sharply criticizing the new position.

"It's just like a defense attorney saying, 'My client's guilty, your honor. What's next?'” said Marshall on the House floor. "This is not adequate representation, and [Herring] has clearly prejudiced the case against the people of the Commonwealth of Virginia to his great detriment."

Attorney General Herring says he has not yet decided whether to personally argue the legality of gay marriage in the first scheduled case -- in Norfolk. Oral arguments are set to begin next week.

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