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Va. Gay Marriage Opponents Criticize Attorney General's Reversal


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's hear a response to some news we've reported on today's MORNING EDITION. Virginia's attorney general, Mark Herring, told NPR today his office will oppose the state's own ban on gay marriage. He wants to overturn that ban in court. Instead of defending it, he'll work against it. Those who still support the ban include Victoria Cobb, who is president of the Family Foundation, an advocacy group based in Richmond, Va. She's on the line. Welcome to the program.

VICTORIA COBB: Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: So how much damage has the attorney general done to your side?

COBB: Well, it's just disappointing, and really frightening, that whether one agrees with or not the marriage amendment, the idea that over a million Virginia citizens can be left defenseless by the attorney general after legally voting for an amendment that he himself supported, it's chilling.

INSKEEP: The million, you're talking about, those are the people who voted for a ban on gay marriage eight years ago?

COBB: Yeah, that's right. It was a 57 percent issue, and it is something that is - was popularly supported and is in our constitution. And it is the role of the attorney general within the last - what? - 12, 13 days, you know, he took an oath to defend the constitution, yet we have him going against that.

INSKEEP: We'll remind people, he is the new attorney general of Virginia, was elected last November. Do you feel in any way misled by Mark Herring? He didn't promise to do this, but he was clear that he was in favor of gay marriage.

COBB: Well, it's incredibly disappointing that he wouldn't have been honest about his intentions and very straightforward about this issue while campaigning in office. This lawsuit was moving forward. He certainly should have spoken about it and said, hey, I want to jump in on it. And even more so, the fact that he criticized, time and again, Attorney General Cuccinelli - you know, I can look at a quote that he said, you know, he said, time and again - he, referring to Cuccinelli, his...

INSKEEP: His predecessor, sure. His Republican predecessor.

COBB: He has bent and twisted the law, and misused and abused the power of the office in order to advance personal ambition, and an extreme ideological agenda. So that was his commentary about our previous, you know, our previous attorney general. And yet I see him doing exactly the same thing here.

INSKEEP: Can the lawsuit go forward without the attorney general of Virginia to defend the law in court?

COBB: Well, if you're citing Cuccinelli's refusal in the past to have defended one particular incident, he needs to move forward with the same precedent, which is that he needs to be questioned on why he wouldn't at least appoint outside counsel to defend the lawsuit.

INSKEEP: Although we're told that there will be lawyers - still - who will be defending the gay marriage ban, just not attorney general of the state of Virginia lawyers.

COBB: Yes, but they need to be appointed by the attorney general's office, not simply friends of the court and so forth.

INSKEEP: OK. Let me ask about the broader issue here. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit clearly want it to go to the United States Supreme Court. They clearly are hoping, eventually, for some national ruling on gay marriage. And I'm just interested, as you think about this case, do you also hope that it goes to the Supreme Court; that there is some kind of national settlement on this?

COBB: Well, I struggle with the fact that we have 67 percent of Americans that are living in states that - they have gone to the ballot and put a one-man-one-woman statement in their constitution. Only 4.5 percent of Americans live in a state where they've chosen same-sex marriage from the ballot. This movement is coming just through the courts, because it can't be won with the people at the ballot box. So it's disappointing that the courts would be the place that we need to go on this.

INSKEEP: Although, in just about 10 seconds, does your case lose some force? Because surveys show that in recent years, since those ballot initiatives, there's been a lot more support for gay marriage.

COBB: Well, the only problem is surveys is they're not the ballot box. We saw in Maryland, for example, where you had folks voting for Obama in overwhelming numbers, but you saw 13 percent less at the same election, same day, voted in favor of gay marriage. So I don't think that one can say just because of polls that we would have a different reaction.

INSKEEP: And in just about 10 seconds, do you think the Virginia case is going to go to the Supreme Court?

COBB: I certainly think it has that potential.

INSKEEP: OK. Victoria Cobb, thanks very much.

COBB: Sure, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: She is president of the Family Foundation in Virginia, which supports the state's ban on gay marriage. And again, we're reporting today, we had an interview with Mark Herring, the new attorney general of Virginia, who has switched sides; his office has switched sides. They will now oppose that ban in court. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.