VA Attorney General Fights Gay Marriage Ban

Virginia's attorney general is shaking things up: newly elected Mark Herring says Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and says he'll no longer defend the law. It's a big step for the state, where previous officials held a conservative stance on the issue. Now, activists are hoping Virginia might just become the newest addition to the growing number of states legalizing marriage for same-sex couples.

Herring filed a brief Thursday at a Norfolk federal court in which he says the same-sex marriage ban is discriminatory and that marriage is a fundamental right. The attorney general marked a change in Virginia's position in the Bostic v. Rainey case, where two same-sex couples were denied the right to marry. After he came into office, Herring says he asked his staff to review the case and decided the ban violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Putting Virginian's first is his mission, Herring says, and during his campaign for attorney general last year he pushed for marriage equality. But he wasn't always so progressive. The Democrat tells NPR he voted against same-sex marriage as a senator in 2006, citing that at the time he was speaking out against discrimination. He admits he was wrong, saying "it was very painful for a lot of people." Discussing it with co-workers, constituents, and family — particularly his children — helped spur the shift in his views.

"There have been times in some key landmark cases where Virginia was on the wrong side, was on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of the law....And as attorney general, I'm going to make sure that the [people] presenting the state's legal position on behalf of the people of Virginia are on the right side of history and on the right side of the law."

State voters ratified an amendment eight years ago defining marriage solely between a man and a woman. Currently, 17 states legally recognize same-sex marriage and it looks like Virginia is another one to watch.