Va. Attorney General Announces Switch in Favor of Gay Marriage; Says Ban Hurts Many People

Virginia's new attorney general has announced that his office will not defend the state's ban on gay marriage, revealing that he has changed his views on the matter and refuses to "hurt" people any more.

"As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend laws that violate Virginians' rights," Attorney General Mark Herring announced on Thursday, according to NPR. "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 added of a recent case concerning gay marriage.

The case in question concerns a Virginia couple, Timothy B. Bostic and his partner Tony C. London, who applied for a marriage license in July 2013 at Norfolk Circuit Court but were turned down because of the state's ban on same-sex marriage. Bostic and London have since filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court and have been joined by another same-sex-couple, Carol Schall and Mary Townley.

Herring, a Democrat who in 2006 voted in favor of traditional marriage while he was a Senate member, added that his change in stance on the issue reflected a personal journey for him.

"I was wrong for not applying it to marriage," Herring said about his convictions against discrimination. "I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people."

Virginia's Constitution currently defends traditional marriage, after a voter-approved amendment in 2006 defined marriage as solely between a man and a woman.

Herring, who assumed office on Jan. 11 after a close election victory over Republican Mark Obenshain, explained that although his duty is to defend constitutional laws, he does not believe a ban on same-sex marriage should be considered one of them.

"There have been times in some key landmark cases where Virginia was on the wrong side, was on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the law," he said. "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 spokesman Michael Kelly confirmed in an email to The Associated Press that the attorney general office has conducted a "thorough legal review of the matter" and found the ban to be "in violation of the U.S. Constitution."

Family groups in favor of the traditional definition of marriage have criticized the attorney general's remarks, with Family Foundation of Virginia President Victoria Cobb calling Herring's change in stance "chilling" and "frightening."

"The decision by the Attorney General is not surprising, but it is disappointing and frightening. It's disappointing that he wouldn't be clear about his intentions on this issue while campaigning for the office," Cobb said in a statement.

"More importantly, it's frightening that politicians like the Attorney General feel that they can pick and choose which aspects of the Constitution they deem worth to defend and apply. Whether one agrees with the marriage amendment or not, the idea that over a million Virginia citizens can be left defenseless by the Attorney General after legally voting for an amendment that he himself supported is chilling."

Currently, 17 U.S. states as well as D.C. allow for same-sex marriage. In 2013, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane stopped supporting the ban on gay marriage, calling it "unconstitutional" and something she cannot "ethically defend," AP noted.