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Marriage lawsuits could help Davis, hurt Abbott in Texas governors race

Monday, February 17, 2014
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Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth)

Abbott: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia; Davis: Eric Gay, AP
Attorney General Greg Abbott (R-Texas) and State Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth)

AUSTIN, Texas — Greg Abbott’s job as Texas’ top lawyer placed him in the line of fire last week when his likely Democratic opponent in the governor’s race called on him to stop defending lawsuits over same-sex marriage.

State Sen. Wendy Davis has criticized Abbott for defending the Texas ban on same-sex marriage, saying the law violates the U.S Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection for homosexuals.

Davis said the attorney general’s obligation should be to recognize injustices and work to rectify them rather than spend millions in taxpayer dollars on litigation. But Davis also knows these are winning issues for her, with the growing support for gay marriage in the state.

Abbott insists his job requires him to defend all laws passed by the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. The fact that Republican primary voters oppose same-sex marriage is a bonus for his short-term political goals.

Long term, though, it gets complicated.

On the issue of marriage equality, Abbott has also tried to say as little as possible. In response to questions from The Associated Press, Abbott said he opposes same-sex marriage, but his office has been issuing the same statement from spokeswoman Lauren Bean for several weeks when asked about the lawsuit.

“The attorney general’s office will defend the Texas Constitution in this case just as we do in all cases where state laws are challenged in court,” Bean said. “The U.S. Supreme Court was clear that states have independent authority to establish their marriage laws. Texans adopted a constitutional amendment defining marriage. We will defend that amendment.”

Davis and Abbott both know that same-sex marriage is an important issue for young voters and making it a big deal in the election could turn them out for Davis.

Abbott and his staff say he is required to defend lawsuits challenging Texas’ same-sex marriage ban, but marriage equality supporters say that’s not entirely true, and that Abbott can negotiate a settlement in all these cases if he thought it would produce the best outcome for Texans.

After federal judges found flaws with political maps drawn by the Legislature, for example, he convinced lawmakers to approve new maps that mirrored those drawn by the judges because he knew the original maps could not withstand judcial scrutiny.

Davis can use these lawsuits to her advantage. If Abbott defends these laws, she uses that to motivate her voters. If he settles the cases, she declares victory. Either way, Abbott’s role as attorney general makes his campaign more difficult.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

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