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GOP slams Herring

Friday, January 24, 2014

From Bulletin and AP reports

RICHMOND — Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement Thursday that he will join a fight to undo the state’s ban on gay marriage set the stage for a showdown with Republican legislators.

The GOP lawmakers reacted angrily to Herring’s decision, saying the attorney general abandoned his role as the chief defender of the state’s laws.

“Less than two weeks ago, Mark Herring took an oath and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of Virginia,” House Speaker William J. Howell said in a statement. “I am very concerned about his announcement today and the dangerous precedent it sets with regard to the rule of law.”’

Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, said he was standing right behind Herring when he took that oath, and the fact that he now will not defend the Virginia Constitution and will work with those fighting the ban is a “real overreach” by the attorney general.

He noted that he never heard Herring say he would do that during the campaign for attorney general.

“To make this bold step without making us aware when he was running for election ... he should have let us know this,” Marshall said, adding that information might have changed minds in a close race.

He recalled that Virginia voters approved the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman by a large margin in 2006. And just last summer, Marshall conducted a 14th District poll that included a question about keeping the marriage definition. Almost 70 percent of the respondents in the district supported the definition, he said.

Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, said he was “disappointed” with Herring’s stand. Like Marshall, Poindexter said Virginians made their wishes known on the issue with the 2006 vote on the constitutional amendment.

Both Marshall and Poindexter said there likely is little the General Assembly can do now.

“It’s all in the constitution. His responsibilities are laid out in the constitution by law, to preserve and defend the U.S. and Virginia constitutions,” Poindexter said.

Herring’s move wasn’t entirely unexpected. Del. Todd Gilbert, R- Shenandoah, said Herring’s remarks on the campaign trail last year prompted Gilbert to propose legislation that would give lawmakers the ability to intervene in lawsuits on behalf the state.

“Since he is choosing to change the rules as we go certainly the General Assembly has the right to alter the process by which we defend our laws when the attorney general chooses not to defend them,” Gilbert said.

He added that Herring’s announcement may speed up action on the bill, which is before a committee.

Herring dismissed the legislation as unnecessary.

“Virginia has one attorney general. I think it’s going to stay that way,” he said at a news conference.

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers praised Herring and said there was clear precedent for an attorney general not to defend a law he thinks is unconstitutional.

“The attorney general has it right,” said House Minority Leader David Toscano.

Herring’s move may also cast a contentious social issue back to the forefront of Virginia politics, something newly elected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has appeared eager to avoid while instead focusing on economic development issues.

In an interview with The Associated Press last week, McAuliffe reiterated his strong support for gay rights, but scoffed at recent attempts by Democratic lawmakers to push a proposed constitutional amendment legalizing gay marriage through the General Assembly.

“I mean, c’mon, it’s not going to pass the House of Delegates,” said McAuliffe, referencing the firm control Republicans have of the House.

The governor’s spokesman said Thursday that McAuliffe supports Herring’s “efforts to ensure that all Virginians are treated equally under the law.”


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