February 3, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Bill to grant Va. lawmakers ability to defend state laws advances

Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring last month announced he will not defend the state’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage. (Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

The Virginia House of Representatives on Monday approved a bill that would allow any state lawmaker to defend a law if the governor and attorney general decline to do so.

The 65-32 vote in the Republican-controlled chamber took place three days after lawmakers approved House Bill 706 in a voice vote. The Washington Post reported that state Del. Tom Rust (R-Fairfax County) is among those who opposed the measure.

“A member of the General Assembly has standing to represent the interests of the commonwealth in a proceeding in which the constitutionality, legality or application of a law established under legislative authority is at issue and the governor and attorney general choose not to defend the law,” reads HB 706.

A House committee on Jan. 24 approved HB 706; one day after Attorney General Mark Herring announced he would not defend Virginia’s constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

“Everybody knows that this wouldn’t even be an issue if Herring didn’t do what he did yesterday,” state Del. Mark Keam (D-Fairfax County) told the Washington Blade during a Jan. 24 interview.

State Dels. Bob Marshall (R-Prince William County) and Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah County), who introduced HB 706, are among the 30 lawmakers who urged Gov. Terry McAuliffe in a Jan. 24 letter to appoint a special counsel to defend the marriage amendment. The governor last week denied the request.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Tuesday will hear oral arguments in a lawsuit that two couples – Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mark Townley of Chesterfield – filed last year against the marriage amendment. A federal judge in Harrisonburg on Jan. 31 certified a second lawsuit the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia filed on behalf of two lesbian couples from the Shenandoah Valley who are seeking marriage rights in the commonwealth as a class action.

The Democrat-controlled Virginia Senate is expected to kill HB 706.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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