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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Virginia attorney general Mark Herring announced on Thursday that he would side with plaintiffs challenging the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, rather than defend it on behalf of the state.

Herring, a Democrat elected on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s ticket, said his views on marriage equality have changed over the years.

“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,” Herring told NPR. “I saw very soon after that how that hurt a lot of people and it was very painful for a lot of people.”

Like some other Democrats who “evolved” on the issue, Herring says his family and constituents played a role in his decision to side with those seeking to strike down the ban.

“They were instructive about the relationships that people have, and they were helpful in getting me to see a different perspective,” Herring said. “They pressed me for the position I had taken and made me continue to question it, and I just came to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do.”

Herring’s decision is the latest sign of just how influential the recent gubernatorial election will be for the Commonwealth. The 2013 election marked the first time since 1969 that Virginians elected both a Democratic attorney general and governor. Herring’s predecessor and the Republican nominee for governor, Ken Cuccinelli, was staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage. As attorney general, Cuccinelli vowed to uphold Virginia’s ban, which was passed by a popular vote in 2006.

Governor McAuliffe, on his first day in office, issued on executive order that banned discrimination against LGBT state employees.

Virginia’s Democratic leadership quickly spoke out in support of Herring’s decision, arguing that it puts him “on the right side of history.”

“Discrimination of any kind has no place in this country or Commonwealth,” Virginia Democratic Party chair Charniele Herring (no relation) said in a statement. “I support Attorney General Herring in his legal assessment and conclusion that ‘to defend a[n] unconstitutional law…would be a violation of [his oath], misuse of office, and would be inconsistent with precedents.”

Virginia voters also appear to back the attorney general’s decision. A survey conducted last summer by the Human Rights Campaign found that 55 percent of Virginians support same-sex marriage.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

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