Herring addresses criticism of his stance on gay marriage

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — In 2006, Virginians voted to ban same-sex marriage. Tuesday, the state’s newly elected Attorney General refused to defend that law in Norfolk Federal Court.

A landmark case on same-sex marriage began in Norfolk Tuesday — a federal judge heard arguments on whether Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution. Representatives for Tim Bostic and Tony London, a Norfolk couple, argued the law violates two clauses in the 14th Amendment.

The couples’ lawyers said marriage is not just about having children, it’s about freedom. They called marriage a fundamental right. Attorney General Mark Herring’s refusal to argue against them has some calling for his impeachment and others heralding him as a champion of civil rights.

Demonstrators outside the courthouse in Norfolk Tuesday morning opposed not only same-sex marriage, but also their State Attorney General’s decision to stand with the plaintiffs.Art Kohn reports on AG Herring's stance on gay marriage

“I think he took an oath to uphold the laws of Virginia, and I’m very concerned he would disregard all the people of Virginia who voted in 2006 for the marriage amendment,” said Sylvia Roughton, one of the demonstrators.

Virginia’s constitution not only outlaws same-sex marriage, but also clearly defines the duty of the state Attorney General to defend the state’s constitution. 10 On Your Side pressed Herring on the issue at a press conference Tuesday.

“Nowhere in that definition of your job description does it say if you agree with that,” said WAVY News Military Reporter Art Kohn. “How do you reconcile that in fact you are upholding the constitution?”

“Well, the oath of office that I took was to support the Constitution of the United States and of Virginia. And as we’re taught at a very young age, when the two conflict, it is the U.S. Constitution which must prevail and is the law of the land,” Herring responded.

“He wasn’t clear about that when he was campaigning,” said Barry Wood, who opposes same-sex marriage. “He only won by a few votes. If the man had told the truth, he probably wouldn’t be Attorney General.”

Photo by WAVY/Aaron Kurtz
Photo by WAVY/Aaron Kurtz

But Herring said he did address Virginia’s marriage law passed in 2006 during his campaign.

“… and that if elected, I would review carefully the legal precedent with the experts in the Attorney General’s Office to determine whether I thought the law was constitutional, and I said that I did not believe that an attorney general should be defending laws that are unconstitutional.”

“Just think what a different history we would have in Virginia if in the 1950s the Attorney of Virginia had said segregated schools are not right. Or in the 60s had said, ‘I think black people and white people should be able to get married.’ We’d be applauding those people today for being heroes because they got it,” said Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline with People of Faith for Equality in Virginia.

“The injustice of Virginia’s position in those cases will not be repeated this time. And today, the Commonwealth of Virginia got it right,” Herring said Tuesday.

Of course, not everybody agrees with the Attorney General. Much was said about the U.S. Constitution being the supreme law of the land. And the ultimate decision in this case will end up in the Supreme Court.

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