(Photo: REUTERS/Keith Bedford)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is receiving criticism after saying state attorneys general do not have to defend their state laws banning same-sex marriage if they find those laws to be discriminatory.
The Coalition of African American Pastors and the Republican Attorneys General Association have both denounced Holder's comments, which were made Tuesday at the National Association of Attorneys General Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. At the meeting, Holder said state attorneys general must focus on upholding the values "that all are created equal and entitled to equal opportunity."
"Any decisions – at any level – not to defend individual laws must be exceedingly rare," Holder said. "They must be reserved only for exceptional circumstances. And they must never stem merely from policy or political disagreements – hinging instead on firm constitutional grounds. But in general, I believe we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation."
Holder's comments have drawn criticism from conservative groups who argue the U.S. attorney general is completely disregarding the laws of the state and the obligation of an attorney general to defend such laws. Recently, Democratic attorneys general from six states, including California, Illinois, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Nevada have refused to defend their state's ban on same-sex marriage, thus allowing the issue to be determined by a judge.
The Coalition of African American Pastors issued a statement, calling for Holder's impeachment over his comments. The group is reportedly launching an effort to gather signatures for his impeachment, saying the Obama administration has "sold out" on the issue of same-sex marriage.
"He will go down in history as the worst attorney general," the Rev. William Owens, the group's founder and president, told The Hill in an interview. Owens went on to say that he finds it to be shameful that the administration has compared the civil rights movement as being the same to the current pro-same-sex marriage movement.
"It's a disgrace that [Obama] has stood on the shoulders of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.," Owens said. "I detest them calling this a civil rights movement. It's not a civil rights movement; it's a civil wrongs movement."
"He's used his blackness to get away with some of the things he's gotten away with," Owens added.
The Republican Attorneys General Association has also condemned Holder's comments, calling them "inappropriate."
"The approach is as inappropriate as it is unprecedented," Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said in a statement. "What General Holder is asking state attorneys general to do is accept a gratuitously offered nonbinding legal opinion on an issue that has not been decided by a national court of competent jurisdiction at this time."
Alan Wilson, South Carolina's attorney general and RAGA chairman, echoed the group's sentiment, saying the Obama administration is ignoring the "rule of law."
"Our freedom depends on upholding the rule of law and obtaining the consent of the governed. Republican Attorneys General will continue to fight every single day to protect our Constitution and defend states' rights."
Alabama Attorney Genera Luther Strange added: "A state attorney general has a solemn duty to the state and its people to defend state laws and constitutional provisions against challenge under federal law. To refuse to do so because of personal policy preferences or political pressure erodes the rule of law on which all of our freedoms are founded."