Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring will not defend anti-marriage law in court

Today, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he does not intend to defend a state statute and constitutional amendment in Virginia that denies the freedom to marry to same-sex couples. 

He said: "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, is 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."

Herring spoke further with NPR today, explaining his journey on why marriage matters to same-sex couples. He said, "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. I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people."

The decision means that AG Herring will side with the plaintiffs in two lawsuits currently making their way through federal court in Virginia. The first, Harris v. McDonnell, is a class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU of Virginia, and will likely go to trial in Spring 2014. The second, Bostic v. Rainey, is filed by private lawyers and supported by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER). Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for January 30. Both cases seek the freedom to marry and respect for out-of-state marriages in Virginia. 

The Attorney General said that he will file a brief specifically in the Bostic v. Rainey case. 

An October 2013 poll by The Washington Post provides evidence that AG Herring's views mirror the feelings of a majority of Virginians. The poll found that 56 percent of voters in the state favor of the freedom to marry, with only 33 percent saying it should be "illegal" for same-sex couples to wed. 

Virginia, of course, famously stood as a battleground for marriage in the 1960s, when Mildred and Richard Loving fought laws in the state that made it illegal for people of different races to marry in the state. Their 1964 case, Loving v. Virginia, went to the United States Supreme Court and struck down laws banning interracial marriage across the country. 

Herring's announcement this morning is similar to stances taken in the past two years from the Attorneys General in Pennsylvania and Illinois. In June 2012, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan requested to intervene in Lambda Legal case Darby v. Orr in support of the same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry. Last summer, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said that she would stop defending Pennsylvania's anti-marriage law, too. In 2011, President Barack Obama and the U.S. Department of Justice declared that they would no longer be defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law whose central section was struck down by the United States Supreme Court last month. 

Freedom to Marry celebrates Attorney General Herring's refusal to defend marriage discrimination in Virginia. With his support and the continued support of so many public officials who understand the importance of the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, we can continue to advance marriage for all.