Great stuff from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who every day proves that: a) elections have major consequences; b) your vote REALLY matters; and c) what a huge difference there is between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to LGBT equality (and women’s rights, the environment, you name it). Thank you Mark Herring, and keep up the great work!
Good morning and thank you for joining us this morning. I’m joined by the Solicitor General of Virginia, Stuart Raphael, who presented Virginia’s case in court this morning.
The Commonwealth of Virginia enjoys a history as rich and complicated as any in our great nation. It is marked by moments of profound leadership on the national stage, but it also includes moments where elected officials, including Attorneys General, fought to protect an unjust status quo.
Today was a moment in our history that should make Virginians proud, as our commonwealth again takes the lead, this time, on one of the key civil rights issues of our time.
Today you heard the opponents of marriage equality make the best case they could, but just like in district court, their arguments were wholly unpersuasive. Nothing that was said in the court room today alters the basic incompatibility of this discriminatory ban with the protections guaranteed by our constitution. And every single federal court that has considered the question since last summer’s Windsor decision has reached the same conclusion.
The constitution does not permit states laws to mark committed relationships between same-sex couples as deficient and inferior. As we have said repeatedly throughout this case, the issue is not the right to gay marriage or the right to straight marriage, it is just the right to marriage and all the responsibilities that come with it.
In her decision striking down the marriage ban, Judge Wright Allen said it well, invoking the Emancipation Proclamation: “The men and women, and the children too, whose voices join in noble harmony with Plaintiffs today, also ask for fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as it is in this Court’s power, they and all others shall have.”
Those who are challenging this ban understand this personally as do thousands of couples across the state, such as the one from the Richmond area who wrote me recently to say they “look forward to the day when our daughter can witness our marriage and know her family is just as protected and sacred as everyone else’s family.” Or the veteran who wrote from the Shenandoah Valley to say that he looks forward to marrying his partner of more than 30 years in time for his future father-in-law- a World War 2 vet- to see it. Or the college student from southwest Virginia who wasn’t old enough to vote on the marriage ban, but said he remembered how its presence on the ballot made him feel “singled out and further pushed into concealing [his] identity from [his] friends, family and fellow citizens.”
In writing for the Supreme Court in the case that guaranteed co-education at Virginia’s public universities, Justice Ginsberg said that “[T]he history of our Constitution … is the story of the extension of constitutional rights and protections to people once ignored or excluded.” How amazing and rewarding it is to see that process happen in real time.
I’m optimistic that the judges who heard today’s arguments will affirm the district court’s decision and recognize the equal rights of these couples and those like them throughout Virginia and our neighboring states.
Putting the Commonwealth of Virginia on a path that is leading the way forward, and having the right to fight for the rights of all Virginians is an awesome responsibility that I am honored to have. It makes all the politically motivated criticisms, and the misrepresentation of my actions and the role of the Attorney General, pale in comparison.
I will continue to work every day as a modern Attorney General, running a legal operation that meets the needs of a Virginia that is helping to lead the nation. That means preparing for tomorrow’s public safety threats and challenges, helping to create a business climate where our Main Street businesses can flourish alongside our high tech employers, and ensuring that Virginia is providing equal opportunity for all who would seek to call the Commonwealth home.
This is what the people of Virginia expect and it is what they elected me to do.