Va. House Republicans aim to hire lawyer to defend same-sex marriage ban

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

RICHMOND, Va. — The GOP-controlled Virginia House of Delegates on Thursday approved a resolution that includes language that would allow the branch to hire legal counsel to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, something Attorney General Mark Herring has chosen not to do.

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

Virginia state capitol in Richmond.

The measure, HR 566, began as a move to allow the body to hire a lawyer to “represent the House of Delegates to halt any attempt by the Governor to expand the Medicaid program without the explicit approval of the General Assembly.”

But in language added in a reprinting of the bill, a clause was included to allow House Republicans to hire private counsel to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Specifically, the measure would allow the Speaker of the House, William J. Howell R-53 to hire counsel to represent the legislative body in state courts and gain the power to remove the AG for his “improper role in challenging Virginia’s marriage laws.”

The employed counsel would then be able to “represent the position of the Commonwealth in pending litigation involving the challenge to the constitutionality of Virginia’s marriage laws”

Michael Kelly, Herring’s Director of Communications, said the House has shifted efforts from focusing on ways to extend healthcare coverage to low-income Virginians, to wasting taxpayer time an money “on a meaningless resolution that flies in the face of our constitution’s separation of powers.”

“Every court that has reviewed Virginia’s marriage ban has agreed with Attorney General Herring’s analysis and the author of Virginia’s modern constitution has said the Attorney General acted within his authority and duty,” wrote Kelly in an email. “This is just an anti-equality measure wrapped up in the guise of the law.”

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Herring has chosen not to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying he believes the law does not pass constitutional muster and discriminates against LGBTQ Virginians.

James Parrish, executive director of Equality Virginia, called the resolution “another example of how out far of touch the majority of Delegates are with ordinary Virginians.”

March 2014 Quinnipiac University poll put support for same-sex marriage at 50% across the commonwealth, and opposition at 42%.

Virginia’s same-sex marriage was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in February, a decision that was upheld in July by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The case is one of seven that have been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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