Virginia AG will ask court to strike gay marriage ban

Virginia's new attorney general is expected to ask a federal court to strike down the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage, a dramatic switch from his predecessor's strong opposition to same-sex unions.

By Robert Dilday

In office only two weeks, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is expected to announce Jan. 23 that the state will ask a federal court to strike down Virginia’s constitutional ban on gay marriage, adopted in 2006 by about 57 percent of voters.

Herring Mark WebFirst reported by the Washington Post citing sources close to Herring, the attorney general’s position is a dramatic change from his predecessor, Republican Ken Cuccinelli, who had pledged to defend the ban. Herring was elected last November in an election that placed Democrats in all of Virginia’s top offices.

The attorney general is expected to announce in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute that he will file a supportive brief in a lawsuit in Norfolk, Va., challenging the gay marriage prohibition.

According to the Post, Herring will say that Virginia has been on the “wrong side” of key legal battles in the past, and that the state should be on the “right side of the law and history” on this issue. In one case — Loving v. Virginia in 1967 — often cited by gay marriage supporters as a parallel, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the state’s laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriage. Federal courts have struck down bans in Oklahoma and Utah, but the laws remain in place pending appeals.

Last fall, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said he supports gay marriage but will defend a constitutional amendment prohibiting it which was adopted in 2012 by a wide margin.