Virginia House Republicans aim to hire lawyer to defend gay marriage ban
In a resolution passed today, Virginia House republicans slipped in language which would allow the branch to hire legal council to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage - a decision the state’s Attorney General has chosen not to do.
HR 566 started as a move to allow the branch 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 today, a clause was added which would allow the republican dominated house to hire private council to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Specifically, it 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, AG Herring’s Director of Communications, asked the House to focus on a way to extend healthcare coverage to low-income Virginians, “not to waste taxpayers’ money and time 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.”
AG 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. “Marriage is a fundamental right being denied to some Virginians, and the ban unlawfully discriminates on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender,” Herring said in January of the year.
In a statement released this evening, 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.”
A March 2014 Quinnipiac University poll put support for same-sex marriage at 50% across the commonwealth, and opposition at 42%.
“At a time when we should be focusing on building an inclusive and welcoming Commonwealth,” said Parrish. ”It’s a shame that these members are wasting valuable legislative time and resources to double down on discrimination.”
Republican Activist Steve Albertson wrote an oped today supporting HR 566 saying the bill has nothing to do with “where you stand on gay marriage.”
“It is one thing if an attorney general feels like his own conscience or even the U.S. Constitution prohibits him from providing a vigorous defense of his client,” wrote Albertson on TheBlueElephant.com. “It is an entirely different matter for that attorney general to act as judge and jury by kneecapping his client’s case and not appointing counsel who can defend his client’s interests.”
Virginia’s 2006 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in July of this year.
It is one of seven same-sex marriage cases, along side cases in Utah and Oklahoma, all struck down by Federal Appeals courts in recent months. All seven are being considered by the Supreme Court for their upcoming legislative calendar and a decision is expected in the months following.
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