Jan. 23, 2014
UPDATED 10:38 AM
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia's attorney general has officially joined a lawsuit challenging the state's 2006 ban on gay marriage.
Attorney General Mark R. Herring argues in a brief filed Thursday in federal court that the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. He calls marriage a fundamental right and the ban discriminatory.
The brief was filed in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, where two couples are taking on the ban.
A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 30 before a judge who was nominated by President Barack Obama.
Herring's decision marks a seismic political shift in Virginia, a battleground state in the national fight to grant same-sex couples the right to wed. It comes less than two weeks after he took office in an historic Democratic sweep of the state's top political offices.
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.
"As attorney general, I cannot and will not defend a law that violates Virginians’ fundamental constitutional rights."— Mark Herring (@AGMarkHerring) January 23, 2014
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.