Virginia's attorney general takes gutsy stand against gay marriage ban

January 24, 2014 

In the world of political warfare, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring might have just earned a medal for valor. He has asked a federal court to overturn the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, citing his own evolution on the issue and his belief that such a ban is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Herring is sure to draw heavy fire from conservative Republicans.

But he might have more defenders than his foes anticipate. Despite gay marriage bans in some states, including unfortunately North Carolina, it’s evident from public opinion polls and dialogue that the issue of same-sex marriage isn’t much of an issue anymore.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper issued a statement saying that he wouldn’t take action similar to Herring’s but that he is sympathetic to opponents of the state’s amendment: “North Carolina should change its laws,” Cooper said, “to allow marriage equality, and I believe basic fairness eventually will prevail. However, when legal arguments exist to defend a law, it is the duty of the Office of the Attorney General under North Carolina law to make those arguments in court.”

Herring was part of a group of Democrats who took top state offices from Republicans in the most recent election in Virginia, something that may indicate a philosophical shift in the state.

In taking his stand, Herring rightly called to mind Virginia’s tarnished tradition of supporting school segregation and opposing interracial marriage. The meaning, then, was clear when he said, “It’s time for the commonwealth to be on the right side of history and the right side of the law.”

Herring as a legislator had supported a state constitutional ban on gay marriage, and his change of heart seems to be an honest reflection of the changing attitudes among many people, some of them conservatives. Basically, Herring said he had ultimately decided he didn’t want someone else telling his son or daughter whom they could marry.

That is a good-faith, candid and honest viewpoint, one that people of all political persuasions should respect even if they don’t agree with it.

Would that North Carolina could reverse its own constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, now a legal anachronism, not to mention an infringement on personal privacy and individual rights. This type of ban has been successfully challenged in other states, and it may well be here.

Conservatives fear that Herring’s action may trigger such challenges and open the way for gay marriage rights in the South. Good.

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