Monday, August 08, 2016

From the Archives: Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring discusses federal gay marriage appeals

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on September 14, 2014. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site was scheduled to go dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring discusses federal gay marriage appeals

After offering opening remarks to the participants at the third annual Charlottesville Gay Pride Festival in Lee Park on September 13, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring spoke to reporters about the same-sex marriage cases that may be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in its coming term.

Answering questions posed by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, Herring, a Democrat who served in the state Senate before his 2013 election as attorney general, explained how his mind has been changed about gay marriage.

As a senator, Herring had voted in favor of the so-called Marshall-Newman amendment, which added a prohibition on same-sex marriage and civil unions to the bill of rights section of the Virginia Constitution. As attorney general, he refused to defend the amendment and statutes banning gay marriage when they were challenged by same-sex couples seeking legal recognition of their marriages.

After his 2006 vote supporting the constitutional ban, Herring explained, “I saw how it hurt a lot of people. That made me continue to question whether that was the right decision.”

'See things differently'
In the intervening years, he said, “I talked to a lot of people – people at work, constituents, my family -- and I see things very differently now.”

At the time of the marriage amendment vote, Herring said, he was “working to end discrimination but I stopped short of full marriage equality. I came to see that that was wrong, and a lot of people were hurt by it.”

Equality, he continued, “is a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence. Nobody deserves to be discriminated against. Our Constitution guarantees not only gay and lesbian couples equality, it guarantees all Americans equality.”

During its upcoming September 29 conference, the U.S. Supreme Court will be looking at certiorari petitions from various states where anti-same-sex-marriage laws have been challenged. Virginia's case is among them.

“The Oklahoma, Utah, and Virginia cases are all now before the Supreme Court on petitions for appeal,” Herring explained.

“Those petitions have been fully briefed as to whether the cases should be taken by the Court. Whether it's Virginia's case or whether it's one of the others or a group of them, it's difficult to predict.” Nonetheless, Herring added, “I feel confident that the court will consider whether to take one, or some, or all of these cases.”

Virginia's case involves two couples, one a male couple from Norfolk who sought a local marriage license and were denied it. The other is a female couple who were legally married in California and adopted a child, but whose marriage goes unrecognized by Virginia, leading to complications regarding the custody status of the adopted child.

Herring explained that “Virginia's case would address all of those legal issues,” adding that “it would be good for Virginia. Not only do I feel we have a really strong legal team but the Commonwealth, I know and we know, has moved forward since the key landmark civil rights decisions over the last 50 years where Virginia was on the wrong side.”

Brown and Loving
Herring noted that the famous 1954 decision that ended racial segregation of government schools, Brown v. Board of Education, included a case from Prince Edward County, Virginia, but “Virginia and its attorney general argued against school desegregation and on the wrong side.”

In the 1967 case that overturned miscegenation laws, Loving v. Virginia, he said, “a couple from Caroline County was denied a marriage license because they were of different races. And again, Virginia argued on the wrong side of that key, landmark decision.”

Herring said he hopes that, “when we look at this issue in the future, people all around the country and our children will know that Virginia was on the right side of history and on the right side of law.”

By deciding not to defend Virginia's laws in these cases, he said, “as Attorney General, I was going to make sure that the injustices in those other landmark civil rights cases would not be repeated this time.”


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