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Nearby: Virginia Attorney General Sides With Couples Fighting Gay Marriage Ban

Attorney General Mark Herring issues sharp reversal on Thursday, will oppose state's ban.

Attorney General Mark Herring will use his office to support recognition of same-sex couples in Virginia. FILE | Patch
Attorney General Mark Herring will use his office to support recognition of same-sex couples in Virginia. FILE | Patch

By Greg Hambrick

If ever there was proof that elections have consequences, a long-held defense of the state's same-sex marriage ban in Virginia has shifted to the state supporting an effort to overturn the law.

Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, is joining two couples in an attempt to strike down the state's marriage ban in federal court, according to multiple news reports Thursday. The Washington Post story broke shortly after midnight.

“The Supreme Court is clear: The United States Constitution is the law of the land, the supreme law of the land,” Herring said at a news conference. “I believe the freedom to marry is a fundamental right and I intend to ensure that Virginia is on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

In 2006, voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that banned recognition of same-sex couples. In November, voters in the state narrowly elected Herring, as well as Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who supported recognition of same-sex couples on the campaign trail.

The state Republican Party was one of several conservative voices blasting Herring's decision.

"It took Mark Herring less than a month to decide he doesn't want to be Attorney General," said state GOP Chairman Pat Mullins in a statement. "The first job of Virginia's Attorney General is to be the Commonwealth's law firm, and to defend the duly passed laws of Commonwealth."

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization based in Washington, celebrated Herring's decision.

“Attorney General Herring joins the growing legal and public consensus that barriers to marriage for lesbian and gay couples do not protect anyone and only harm Virginia families," said the group's president, Chad Griffin.  “This courageous stand on behalf of the Commonwealth plants Virginia firmly on the right side of history."

Progressive lawmakers echoed those sentiments.

"To compete in the world, Virginia needs to attract the best and brightest. The Attorney General is right that Virginia's ban is at odds with the freedom's enshrined in the U.S. constitution," state Del. Rob Krupicka, D-Alexandria, said in a statement. "This is the right move to make sure Virginia is a welcoming state for all. It is the right move for freedom. It is the right move for fairness."

State Del. Alfonso Lopez, an Arlington Democrat whose district includes part of Fairfax County, said in a statement he hopes Herring move will give momentum to ending discrimination in Virginia. Lopez has proposed legislation that would make it unlawful to discriminate against someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity under the state's fair housing law.

"We need to make sure the Commonwealth is accepting of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Attorney General Herring has taken this critical first step, but we need to keep moving forward to end discrimination in housing and the workplace for all LGBT Virginians," Lopez said in a statement.

State Sen. Adam Ebbin, an Alexandria Democrat whose district includes parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties, this year tried to start the long legislative process to repeal the state's constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But a Senate committee this month put that and other potential constitutional amendments on hold until next year. 

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