VA Attorney General Opts For “Right Side Of History,” Drops State Opposition To Marriage Equality Suit

Mark HerringWhat a difference an election makes. Virginia’s new Attorney General Mark Herring has decided that he will not defend the current legal challenge to the state constitutional amendment banning marriage equality. Not only that, but he will actually join the two couples who filed the suit in federal court to strike the law down.

“Virginia has argued on the wrong side of some of our nation’s landmark cases – in school desegregation in 1954, on interracial marriage in the 1967 Loving decision and in 1996 at opening Virginia Military Institute to female cadets,” Herring said in a news conference. “It’s time for the commonwealth to be on the right of history and on the right side of the law.”

Herring won the Attorney General’s race by just 1,000 votes last November, replacing Ken Cuccinelli, the rabidly antigay Republican who wanted to reinstate Virginia’s sodomy laws. As one of his final acts, Cuccinelli, who lost the race to become governor last year, took one last slap at same-sex couples, issuing an opinion that the new Governor, Terry McAuliffe, can’t force the state to allow those couples to file joint income tax returns. Fortunately, the opinion is non-binding.

It’s also a change of heart for Herring himself. As a state legislator, he voted against marriage equality in 2006. “I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people,” Herring told NPR. He said that his children were instrumental in helping convince him that he had been wrong.

In between watching each other’s heads explode in disbelief, opponents of marriage equality complained that Herring was failing to uphold the law, as his oath of office requires. However, Herring is following the lead of other state attorney generals and of the Obama Administration in refusing to defend challenges to marriage bans.

Since passing the constitutional amendment in 2006, Virginians have dramatically shifted their views on marriage equality. The measure passed 57% to 53%, but recent polls show that a majority of Virginians now support it.

The Virginia case may well be the one that decides the future of marriage equality nationally. Theodore Olsen and David Boies, the attorneys who brought the Proposition 8 challenge to the Supreme Court, are handling the Virginia case as well. The pair want to bring the eventual lower court ruling in that case to the Supreme Court to make the Court decide once and for all that marriage equality should be the law of the land.

Photo credit: Virginia Attorney General’s website



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  • HirsuteOne

    “In between watching each other’s heads explode in disbelief” indeed. They are losing their blobs here in VA. This has been leading the news here in rural SW VA all day. It’s a great day for equality and a bad day for bigots. The Marshall/Newman amendment should never have been added in the first place. Equality is coming to Virginia!

  • Spike

    Shock and awe. Elections matter.

  • Snapdragon

    @ HirsuteOne where in Sw Va are you located I asked because I moved from there recently. I can just imagine how much this is being replayed on wsls channel ten and on wdbj 7. I bet those peeps up at Liberty are about to have a friction cow…LOL

  • Freddie27

    “The measure passed 57% to 53%, but recent polls show that a majority of Virginians now support it.”

    This sentence makes no sense at all.

  • HirsuteOne


    I’m in the WDBJ7 viewing area and yes it’s going over with shock and disbelief. I’m always amazed that so many backward notions still exist here in SW VA, but then someone comes along with an open mind and I’m pleasantly surprised.

    I worked the polls, the phones and two voting stations on election day back when the amendment was on the ballot. I heard some very hateful and violent things regarding the amendment. I haven’t heard that level of rhetoric yet, so I am keeping an optimistic point of view.

    If you are in VA, it’s important that you look up the email address(es) and/or contact info for your delegates and send a note (or call) of support to them. Also send a copy of that message to the governor and the AG. They are hearing a lot of voices and it’s important that messages of support are sent!

    Use this link to look up your VA delegates / legislators:

    Contact Governor McAuliff of VA:

    Contact AG Herring of VA here:

  • lorenzo39

    The plural of attorney general is attorneys general, not attorney generals. Sorry, I’m a grammar fascist.

  • Snapdragon

    @HirsuteOne: I can imagine how badly they’re flipping out around there. I worked as a campaign coodanator for several democrats including Obama in 08 and 12 as well as Kaine in 12. I like to think it was the hard work of people like myself that helped push Va into the purple and hopefully into the blue in 2016. When Va went to Obama in 2008 it was the first time since 1969 that Va had gone to the democrats in a presidential election. I believe it was that hard work and the progression of time that has lead us to a Virginia that voted democrats into the top positions this year and has lead us to the tipping point of bring Virginia into the 21st century.

    While I no longer live there and have moved out west I will still write to the elected officials there expressing my gratitude and my admiration for them standing up.

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