RICHMOND — The attorney general of Virginia has announced that he will not defend the commonwealth’s constitutional amendment enshrining marriage as being between a man and a woman.
Instead, Attorney General Mark Herring filed a brief in court on Thursday in favor of overturning Virginia’s current ban on same-sex “marriage,” siding with the homosexuals who sued to challenge the law last year.
Herring also announced his decision during a news conference late in the morning.
“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 on the right side of the law,” he stated. “As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend a law that violates Virginians’ constitutional rights.”
Voters in Virginia had approved the amendment, known as the Marshall-Newman Amendment, during the 2006 election by 57 percent of the vote.
“Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions,” it reads. “This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.”
But Herring, who took office just two weeks ago, said that he doesn’t agree with the law and believes that it is unconstitutional. He had supported its passage in 2006 when voters approved the measure.
“I have now concluded that Virginia’s ban on marriage between same sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution on two grounds: Marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and the ban unlawfully discriminates on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender,” he asserted.
But the speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates expressed concern about Herring’s viewpoint, releasing a statement outlining his disapproval.
“Less than two weeks ago, Mark Herring took an oath and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of Virginia,” William Howell (R-Stafford) wrote. “I am very concerned about his announcement today and the dangerous precedent it sets with regard to the rule of law.”
Senator Richard Black (R-Loudon) agreed.
“I don’t know what the difference between a dictatorship and this is,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “It’s extremely disappointing to me because in state after state, people have voted to define marriage as one man and one woman, and the courts and the gay rights movement have jointly devised this strategy to cut the public out of the process. And what you see is Democrat attorneys general refuse to defend the law and the courts very cynically denying anyone else the right to defend it.”
Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, said that Herring should resign if he cannot defend the commonwealth’s constitution.
“Mark Herring’s decision today not only abandons his first duty, it hobbles this vital legal process. It turns what could have been landmark jurisprudence into a political farce,” he said. “If Mark Herring doesn’t want to defend this case, he should resign, and let the General Assembly appoint someone who will. Mark Herring owes the people of Virginia no less.”
Herring defeated evangelical Christian Mark Obenshain during the November election for the attorney general seat.