RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Following a seismic political shift in Virginia's top elected offices, the new attorney general has concluded that the state's ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional and he will no longer defend it in federal lawsuits, his office said Thursday.
Virginia, widely considered a battleground state in the nationwide fight to grant same-sex couples the right to wed, will instead side with the plaintiffs who are seeking to have the ban struck down, a spokesman for Attorney General Mark Herring said in an email to The Associated Press.
"After a thorough legal review of the matter, Attorney General Herring has concluded that Virginia's current ban is in violation of the U.S. constitution and he will not defend it," spokesman Michael Kelly wrote.
Herring, a Democrat who campaigned in part on marriage equality, was to file a brief Thursday with the federal court in Norfolk, where one of the lawsuits is being heard, as notification of the state's change in position in the case, Kelly said.
The state's shift comes on the heels of court rulings in which federal judges struck down gay marriage bans in Utah and Oklahoma.
The lawsuits in Virginia say the state's ban violates the Constitution's equal protection and due process clauses.
The decision by Herring drew divided responses — celebration from attorneys challenging the ban and condemnation from conservative activists.
Tom Shuttleworth, representing the couples challenging the ban in Norfolk, praised Herring's position "on the basic human right of being able to marry the person of your choice."
"It's a nice day to be an American from Virginia," he wrote in an email.
Lambda Legal, which has challenged the state's gay marriage ban in federal court in Harrisonburg, called Herring's decision critical as he is "the keeper of the federal and state constitution in the commonwealth.""