“My personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven’t changed,” the Republican gubernatorial candidate said in response to a question from the PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff during a debate she moderated between him and former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe that took place at the Homestead in Hot Springs, Va. “What I want to do as governor is create an environment — including an economic environment — where every Virginian has opportunity.”
Cuccinelli’s comments come less than a month after he petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a lower court’s ruling earlier this year that struck down the commonwealth’s anti-sodomy statute.
His campaign last week launched a website that urges the justices to defend what it describes as the commonwealth’s “anti-child predators law.”
The debate, which the Virginia Bar Association sponsored, also took place two days after a gay Norfolk couple filed a lawsuit in federal court that challenges Virginia’s constitutional same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006.
A Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday noted 50 percent of Virginians support nuptials for gays and lesbians. A survey that Public Policy Polling unveiled on July 11 found 55 percent of commonwealth residents back same-sex marriage.
McAuliffe, who publicly backed marriage rights for gays and lesbians in February, said during the debate that the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ prompted him and his wife Dorothy to evolve on the issue. He also said he would sign a same-sex marriage bill into law if one were to reach his desk, although he conceded it would likely not happen.
“We all know the practical realities,” McAuliffe said, noting there are only 32 Democrats in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. “[A same-sex marriage ban is] now in our constitution.”
McAuliffe also said he would sign an “early” executive order that would ban anti-gay discrimination against state employees as former Govs. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine did. He criticized Cuccinelli’s 2010 recommendation to Virginia colleges and universities that they remove LGBT-specific provisions from their non-discrimination policies.
“My opponent has continually attacked gay Virginians,” McAuliffe said, noting the defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. threatened to scrap plans to relocate 300 employees to its Virginia headquarters after Cuccinelli issued his directive. “There are consequences to mean-spirited hateful comments.”
Cuccinelli described McAuliffe’s assertion as “laughable if it weren’t so offensive.”
“The only candidate in this race who has chased business out of Virginia is you,” he said, questioning his decision to open a factory for his troubled electric car company in Mississippi — and not the commonwealth. “It’s Terry, not me.”
Gay state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) criticized Cuccinelli’s statements.
“Ken Cuccinelli’s unapologetic and bizarre views on gay people perpetuate the worst stereotypes and make Virginia look like a hostile backwater,” Ebbin told the Washington Blade after the debate. “Labeling gay people ‘harmful to society’ and calling homosexuality a ‘personal challenge’ puts him out of the mainstream of Virginia thinking.”
“The attorney general’s position is counterproductive to building a stronger and more inclusive commonwealth, and the role of Virginia’s governor has the opportunity to bridge differences,” Equality Virginia Advocates added in a statement. “We are deeply disturbed that Attorney General Cuccinelli will continue to use his power in office as a bully pulpit instead of lifting up all Virginians.”
The Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday found McAuliffe leads Cuccinelli among likely Virginia voters by a 43-39 percent margin.
MSNBC’s Chuck Todd will moderate the next scheduled debate between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli that is slated to take place in McLean on September 25.