RICHMOND, Va.—Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Tuesday said extending marriage and other rights to LGBT Virginians is good for his state’s economy.
“I’ve got to grow and diversify this economy,” McAuliffe told the Washington Blade after he spoke at an Equality Virginia reception at the Library of Virginia. “This is what voters elected me to do, and in order to do that we’ve got to send a message that we’re open and welcoming to everyone.”
McAuliffe spoke to Equality Virginia supporters less than a week after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend a state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia, suggested Herring should resign because he won’t defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban. National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown also said state lawmakers should impeach the attorney general over the issue.
“I’ve been in politics too long, I’m never surprised anymore,” McAuliffe told the Blade when asked whether the way Virginia Republicans and social conservatives have reacted to Herring’s announcement came as a surprise.
A federal judge in Norfolk on Thursday will hold a hearing in a lawsuit that two same-sex couples filed last year against the marriage amendment. The ACLU, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia last August filed a class action federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth.
McAuliffe on Monday told state Del. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) that he will not appoint a special counsel to defend the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage amendment after 30 lawmakers asked him to do so. A Virginia House of Delegates committee on Jan. 24 approved a bill that Marshall and state Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County) introduced that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so.
“Let’s get to work and do what voters want us to do and help them get jobs,” McAuliffe told the Blade, stressing Medicaid expansion and improving the state’s transportation infrastructure remain two of his administration’s top priorities. “Let’s focus on things that proactively get things done in the commonwealth and let’s stop the negative attacks.”
McAuliffe told Equality Virginia supporters before he spoke with the Blade that Democrats last year swept all three statewide offices for the first time in 24 years. His party also regained control of the state Senate after the party won two special elections that filled seats Herring and Lieutenant Gov. Ralph Northam vacated last year after they won statewide office.
“Our ticket as you know was not shy about being out front on the issues that matter to us,” said McAuliffe. “I talked every day about how Virginia needs to be open and welcoming.”
McAuliffe backed marriage rights for same-sex couples last February. He repeatedly said during his campaign against then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli that the first executive order he would sign as governor would be a ban on discrimination against LGBT state employees.
McAuliffe said he was “proud” to issue the aforementioned mandate shortly after he took office on Jan. 11.
“Mark and Ralph and I and the state Senate are going to continue to work to make sure that Virginia is open and welcoming to treat everybody with equal respect,” said McAuliffe. “I need to grow and diversify the economy. We need to do that by making ourselves open and welcoming.”