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Herring Elaborates On Decision Not To Defend Virginia Gay Marriage Ban

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Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has started his term with a bang by saying he won't defend the commonwealth's ban on gay marriage.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has started his term with a bang by saying he won't defend the commonwealth's ban on gay marriage.

Reaction is split along party lines for Attorney General Mark Herring's decision to not defend the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.

When he was running for attorney general, state Senator Mark Herring repeatedly declined to say how he would respond to the lawsuit challenging the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. But now, weeks after taking office, the attorney general is finally making a decision — one that has created a fault line in Virginia politics.

Republican House Speaker Bill Howell says Herring is setting a dangerous precedent that threatens the rule of law. Republican chairman Pat Mullins says if Herring doesn't want to defend the Constitution, he should resign. Democrats, on the other hand are praising the decision as a victory for diversity and equality.

Speaking on WAMU's The Kojo Nnamdi Show today, Herring explained why he made the decision to file a brief in opposition to the Virginia Constitution.

"I think based on Supreme Court precedent and other cases that Virginia's law violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution," Herring said. "State laws and state constitutions cannot violate the United States Constitution and as attorney general I've got responsibility to follow the law, and the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land."

Oral arguments in the legal challenge to the constitutional ban on gay marriage are scheduled later this month.

Meanwhile, in Richmond, Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) is proposing legislation that would give legislators the ability to intervene in lawsuits on behalf of the state in anticipation of a move like the one Herring is making.

Herring's announcement also casts a contentious social issue back into the forefront of Virginia politics, something newly elected Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe has appeared eager to avoid. The governor says he supports Herring's actions though.

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