RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The attorney general of Virginia surprised the state's political circles by deciding not to defend Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage. It goes before a federal judge next week. Democrat Mark Herring told this program yesterday that he wants the state to be, quote, "on the right side of history."
NPR's Brian Naylor has this report on reaction to Herring's decision.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Herring, in office for less than two weeks, had little choice but to act quickly on same-sex marriage. A lawsuit challenging the ban comes before a federal judge in Norfolk next week. He told MORNING EDITION he believes the anti-gay marriage law violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And he pointed to another Virginia law that once limited marriage, in that case multi-racial marriage that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down.
MARK HERRING: The court didn't say that there was a right to interracial marriage. It said that everyone, all individuals have the right to marry. And all individuals means all individuals.
NAYLOR: But backers of the prohibition on gay marriage see it differently. Kirk Cox is the Republican majority leader of the Virginia House of Delegates.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE KIRK COX: The attorney general has a constitutional and statutory obligation to enforce and defend the duly adopted laws and constitution of Virginia. This is not an obligation that can be taken lightly. The attorney general's decision demonstrates a great deal of disrespect for that obligation, as well as the legislative and democrat processes for which those laws are adopted.
NAYLOR: Virginians had varying reactions to Herring's decision. Interviewed outside a diner in Crozet, near Charlottesville, Mary Linn was unhappy.
MARY LINN: I'm absolutely negative on that. Don't want it, because I'm a Christian and the Lord says that's a no-no. That's the reason. And what I try to do is to live my life according to the Bible.
NAYLOR: Retiree Stan Gray says he ambivalent on the issue of same-sex marriage.
STAN GRAY: I consider myself not involved in that particular fight. It doesn't bother me one way or the other. I think there are a lot of good reasons for them to be allowed to get married. And there's a lot of history that says we're better off without it. But it doesn't bother me I can accept either decision.
NAYLOR: In 2006, the referendum that banned same-sex marriage, was approved by 57 percent of the state's voters. But in keeping with national trends, a recent Quinnipiac poll showed 50 percent of Virginians surveyed now support allowing gays and lesbians to marry. It's another example of how Virginia is trending social and politically. All three of the states' top office holders and its two U.S. senators are Democrats.
Democratic State Senator Adam Ebbin is the first openly gay member of the Virginia General Assembly, a legislature that goes back more than 400 years. Ebbin says he's glad his state is, in his view, coming around on the issue.
STATE SENATOR ADAM EBBIN: We have a conflicting history of both being the birthplace of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. And at the same time, being the state that resisted interracial marriage and integrating one of our colleges and desegregating our schools. So it's good to be proud of being a Virginian today.
NAYLOR: Herring's decision not to defend Virginias ban on same-sex marriage in court comes after several federal judges have overturned similar bans, including in Utah and Oklahoma. Pennsylvania's attorney general also refused to defend that state's ban, a case now making it was through the courts. In all more than a dozen states have lawsuits challenging laws forbidding same-sex marriage. And in the end, it's likely to be an issue that's finally decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.