Va. candidates for governor clash over LGBT, womens’ rights in first debate

VA debate

Linda Davidson, The Washington Post/AP (Pool)
Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe, left, and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli at a Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce debate Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in McLean, Va.

McLEAN, Va. — Republican Ken Cuccinelli found himself furiously rejecting claims by his Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, Terry McAuliffe, that his actions against gay rights as Attorney General had almost driven business from Virginia.

The first prime-time television debate in Virginia’s 2013 governor’s race, held at the headquarters of Capitol One bank, provoked overstated rhetoric that left both crying foul Wednesday night.

VA debate

Linda Davidson, The Washington Post/AP (Pool)
Va. gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliffe (left) and Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli at a debate Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, in McLean, Va.

McAuliffe, a former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clinton White House insider, sought to position himself as the pro-business moderate in the race, repeatedly invoking the name of popular Democratic Sen. Mark R. Warner, who was a moderate governor.

“My opponent talks a lot about experience, but his experience has been in dividing people, by pursuing his own ideological agenda, introducing legislation that would outlaw most common forms of birth control and bullying the Board of Health, which resulted in the shutting down of some women’s health centers,” McAuliffe said.

“Frankly, I think Virginia women have had just about enough of Ken Cuccinelli’s experience,” said McAuliffe.

Independent polling over the past week showed McAuliffe enjoying a lead of 20 or more percentage points over Cuccinelli among female voters.

McAuliffe also attacked Cuccinelli for calling gays “soulless and self-destructive human beings,” but Cuccinelli denounced the quote about gays that McAuliffe had attributed to him as “offensively false.”

But at a 2008 Family Foundation event, Cuccinelli, then a state senator, was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, “When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul.”

McAuliffe also argued that Cuccinelli’s opposition to reproductive rights and gay rights and stance on climate change would make Virginia less attractive to businesses looking to expand or new start-up ventures.

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During seven years as a state senator and in the past four year as Virginia’s attorney general, Cuccinelli has endorsed Virginia’s anti-gay marriage legislation and has advocated for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

In a 2009 op-ed for the The Virginian Pilot, Cuccinelli wrote, “Homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong.”

He also opposed a state bill that allowed private companies to voluntarily provide health insurance benefits to employees’ domestic partners, warning it might “encourage this type of behavior.”

Cuccinelli has also waged a campaign to reinstate Virginia’s “crimes against nature” sodomy law that bans oral and anal sex among all consenting adults.

McAuliffe said their positions on LGBT equality was a major difference between the two.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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