Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is set to face an outcry from the GOP in his state after announcing that the commonwealth's ban on gay marriages is unconstitutional and he will support same-sex unions in court.
The state's Republican lawmakers are now mulling over plans to push legislation that would allow them to defend the law in court, according to the Washington Post
, which stated that "an uproar is likely."
"As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians' rights," Herring said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition
host Steve Inskeep. "The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this (Bostic v. Rainey) case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied."
Herring, a Democrat, was sworn in to power earlier this month after taking over from Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who lost a recent bid to become governor in the state while campaigning as a fierce party activist who supports the gay-marriage ban.
Eight years ago, when he was a state senator, Herrin supported an amendment in Virginia defining marriage as only between a man and a woman and thus banned gay marriages, which was backed by 57 percent of the voters.
But now he's done a complete reversal and believes that the ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by denying the "fundamental right" of marriage to Virginians and also on the grounds that it discriminates on a basis of sexual orientation and gender.
"There have been times in some key landmark cases where Virginia was on the wrong side, was on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the law," he said in the radio interview.
"And as attorney general, I'm going to make sure that the [people] presenting the state's legal position on behalf of the people of Virginia are on the right side of history and on the right side of the law."
Herring will no longer defend the constitutionality of the ban in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, where two same-sex couples are suing to overturn it. The couples -- Timothy Bostic and partner Tony London, and Mary Townley and Carol Schall -- have a hearing scheduled for next week, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Virginia's Solicitor General Stuart Raphael will tell the court that the state is joining the plaintiffs in the cases, which names Janet Rainey, the state registrar of vital records, as the defendant.
Herring revealed on NPR that he switched sides on this issue after reviewing the Bostic v. Rainey case, and after talking to constituents and his family.
Admitting that he made a mistake in the supporting the 2006 state amendment, Herring said, "I was wrong for not applying it to marriage. I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people."
Virginia has emerged as a key state in the nationwide fight for same-sex unions following the Supreme Court ruling in June allowing such marriages.
After federal judges in Utah and Oklahoma said that constitutional amendments banning such unions in those states could not stand, many gay couples rushed to the altar. But the lifting of the marriage ban has now been put on hold pending an appeal, says the Washington Post.
The District of Columbia and 17 states allow gay marriages, not yet including Utah and Oklahoma, while the highest courts in New Jersey and New Mexico have ruled that gay partners can marry in those states.
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