Va. attorney general will stop defending gay marriage ban

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) said Thursday his office would no longer defend the state’s ban on gay marriage. 

The recently sworn in Democrat told news outlets he would file a friend of the court brief in a lawsuit challenging the state ban. 

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"As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians' rights," Herring told NPR in an interview. "The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied."

Herring swept into office in last year’s election with a razor-thin margin along with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). He had opposed gay marriage when he was a member of the state legislature but has maintained he was wrong in his past vote. 

Virginia passed a gay marriage ban in 2006 with 57 percent of the vote. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now allow gay marriage, after a series of challenges in the last few years have overturned a number of bans. 

Recently, Utah and Oklahoma courts invalidated their respective states’ gay-marriage bans, but they have been stayed, pending appeals to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Herring said he was making the decision because he did not want the state to be on the wrong side of history — which, he asserted, it had been on some issues in the past. 

"And as attorney general, I'm going to make sure that the [people] presenting the state's legal position on behalf of the people of Virginia are on the right side of history and on the right side of the law," Herring told NPR.

Herring had campaigned on marriage equality and again reiterated he had been wrong in the past. 

"I was wrong for not applying it to marriage," Herring said of his vote against marriage equality while a state senator. "I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people, and it was very painful for a lot of people."

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