It seems Virginia may be for lovers after all. Newly elected Attorney General Mark R. Herring announced today, January 23, that Virginia’s law against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, and the state will assist two same-sex couples in a federal court case against the ban.
Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed in 2006 with a 57 percent vote. However, in November 2013, Democrats (including Herring) swept the state election. Former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, a Republican who left office just before Herring, was staunchly against marriage equality.
Herring, who was a senator at the time, voted for the ban at the time; he says he has since changed his mind, and this morning he filed a lawsuit in support of marriage equality.
“I had voted against marriage equality eight years ago back in 2006 even though at the time I was speaking out against discrimination, and ways to end discrimination, and I was wrong for not applying it to marriage,” Herring said on NPR’s “Morning Edition.”
He argues that Virginia has often stood on the “wrong side” of legal history—citing landmark cases like school desegregation and interracial marriage—and should be on the “right side of the law and history” this time around.
According to Herring, his change of heart came after speaking with Virginia citizens, co-workers, and family members.
“They were instructive about the relationships that people have, and they were helpful in getting me to see a different perspective,” said Herring. “They pressed me for the position I had taken and made me continue to question it, and I just came to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do.”
He added, “As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians’ rights. That’s what I have pledged over and over to do, to put the law and put Virginians first…It’s about what the law requires here, and we have concluded, I have concluded, that the law here is unconstitutional, and I think the Supreme Court…would find the law unconstitutional.”
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement shared with 429Magazine, “Attorney General Herring joins the growing legal and public consensus that barriers to marriage for lesbian and gay couples do not protect anyone and only harm Virginia families. This courageous stand on behalf of the Commonwealth plants Virginia firmly on the right side of history.”