(Photo: Reuters/Phil McCarten)
Conservative pro-family groups and Republican lawmakers are decrying Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring's recent decision not to defend the state's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.
The Family Research Council denounced Herring's recent announcement, citing the state's 2006 ban on same-sex marriage that was approved by 57 percent of Virginia voters.
"This lawlessness is an insult to the voters of Virginia who approved the marriage amendment by a large majority," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement following Herring's announcement on Thursday. "The 'left' is becoming a law unto itself."
The Republican Party of Virginia has also spoken out against Herring's decision. "By running for the office, Mark Herring asked for the challenge of defending Virginia's constitution and all it contains," Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins said in a statement.
"If Mark Herring doesn't want to defend this case, he should resign, and let the General Assembly appoint someone who will. Mark Herring owes the people of Virginia no less," he added.
The state's attorney general, who was elected to his post just last month, announced Thursday that as the state's principal legal officer, he will no longer defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage in federal lawsuits despite the fact that it was voter-approved, saying he personally finds the ban to be unconstitutional. Even though the gay marriage ban passed through the state's democratic process, Herring has decided to ignore the public vote on the issue and instead has said that he will be siding with the two same-sex couples, Timothy B. Bostic and his partner Tony C. London and Carol Schall and Mary Townley, in their current lawsuit challenging the state ban on same-sex marriage.
"As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians' rights," Herring said in a statement Thursday.
"The commonwealth will be siding with the plaintiffs in this case and with every other Virginia couple whose right to marry is being denied," he continued.
Herring, who in just 2006 said he supported traditional marriage as between one man and one woman, has since flip-flopped on his position, now claiming that he has reflected more on the meaning of discrimination. "I was wrong for not applying it to marriage," Herring said about his views on discrimination. "I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people."
Completing his u-turn on the divisive issue, Herring stressed his support for gay marriage in his attorney general campaign last year.
"The Supreme Court is clear: The United States Constitution is the law of the land, the supreme law of the land," Herring added. "I believe the freedom to marry is a fundamental right, and I intend to ensure that Virginia is on the right side of history and the right side of the law."
Herring's change on the issue holds political importance in a state like Virginia, where Democrats have recently replaced Republicans in top state political offices. Along with Herring, the state's newly-elected Governor Terry McAuliffe is also a democrat. According to CNN, Virginia is often regarded as a "purple state" because of its Republican-dominated general assembly and conservative-leaning social policies.
Despite Herring's recent announcement, Republican lawmakers in the state have vowed to do what is in their power to protect the sanctity of marriage and will fight any push to redefine marriage.
Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) said in a statement that it is not the attorney general's right to personally decide the legality of the same-sex marriage ban.
"Here in Virginia, the state's Marriage Amendment is a matter of perennial legislative debate, and that Amendment could well fall: the voters could repeal it or a court may strike it down," Obenshain, who lost to Herring in the recent attorney general race, said in a statement. "But it is emphatically not the role of the Attorney General to make that determination unilaterally, and that may well be the consequence of Attorney General Herring's decision."
Republican House Speaker William J. Howell of Stafford added that focus should be on "the dangerous precedent [Herring's decision] sets with regard to the rule of law."
Additionally, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, a group supporting traditional marriage, released a statement saying the attorney general's decision is an example of "malfeasance and neglect of duty" that "is not only a disgrace, it's an impeachable offense under the constitution."