News & Politics

Virginia Attorney General Won’t Defend State’s Gay Marriage Ban

Newly sworn-in Mark Herring says his office will support a lawsuit seeking to overturn the ban Virginia voters passed in 2006.


Virginia’s new attorney general, Mark Herring, wants to make his state the next front in the fight for marriage equality, saying his office will no longer defend the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Herring, who was elected last November in a race that had to be settled by a recount, made his decision public in an interview on NPR’s Morning Edition today, and followed that by filing a brief in support of the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the amendment Virginia voters approved in 2006.

“There have been times in some key landmark cases when Virginia was on the wrong side,” Herring told NPR. “It was on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of the law.”

The brief filed today represents a complete shift for the attorney general’s office. Herring’s predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli, loudly opposed gay marriage and made repeated defenses of the state’s ban.

The suit Herring’s office is joining, Bostic v. Rainey, was filed last July by a gay couple in Norfolk whose request for a marriage license was turned down. The lead attorneys in the case are David Boies and former Solicitor General Ted Olson, who also represented the California couples who brought last year’s Supreme Court case that overturned that state’s prohibition on same-sex marriage.

Herring’s position is also a personal change for him. As a state senator in 2006, he supported putting the same-sex-marriage ban before voters, 58 percent of whom approved it. But his stance on the issue changed by last year, when his campaign platform said that “civil marriage is a fundamental right.”

“I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people,” Herring said in the interview.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.