September 25, 2013 at 9:53 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Virginia gubernatorial candidates clash over marriage, anti-gay statements
Terry McAuliff, Ken Cuccinelli II, Virginia, McLean, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia gubernatorial candidates Democrat Terry McAuliff, former DNC Chair and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, II, Attorney General for Virginia participate in a debate moderated by MSNBC’s Chuck Todd in McLean, Va., on Wednesday, September 25, 2013. (Photo by Nikki Kahn/POOL)

McLEAN, Va.—Former Democratic National Committee Chair Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Wednesday clashed over same-sex marriage and other gay-specific issues during the commonwealth’s latest gubernatorial debate that took place at the Capital One Conference Center in McLean.

“I do have some tremendous challenges because of the issues of economic development, job creation that I need to focus on, but I have come out for marriage equality,” McAuliffe said, noting the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ prompted him and his wife to back the issue. “The idea we could send men and women across the globe to fight for us and then they come back and they don’t have the same equal opportunities and equal rights I just think was plain wrong.”

McAuliffe added he would sign a same-sex marriage bill if one were to reach his desk, even though it remains highly unlikely the Republican-controlled General Assembly would approve such a measure. Cuccinelli pointed out a proposed constitutional amendment to overturn the commonwealth’s same-sex marriage ban that voters approved in 2006 would never go before the governor.

“I understand and respect the fact that this is a sensitive issue to a lot of Virginians,” Cuccinelli said. “But I’m one of those who do believe that the institution of marriage should remain between one man and one woman.”

The candidates’ comments come nearly two months after the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two lesbian couples who are challenging the commonwealth’s gay nuptials ban and the state’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. A gay couple from Norfolk in July filed a separate federal lawsuit against Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

“This is a very important issue,” McAuliffe said.

Cuccinelli denies anti-gay comments

McAuliffe further accused Cuccinelli of promoting an “ideological agenda” on LGBT-specific and women’s issues.

The former DNC chair said defense contractor Northrup Grumman Corp. in 2010 threatened to abandon plans to relocate 300 employees to its northern Virginia headquarters after Cuccinelli directed colleges and universities in the commonwealth to remove sexual orientation and gender identity and expression from their non-discrimination policies. McAuliffe also accused his opponent of describing gay Virginians as “self-destructive and soulless human beings.”

“There are consequences to this mean-spirited attack on women’s health, on gay Virginians,” he said. “If we’re going to build a new economy in Virginia, we’re going to do it by bringing everyone together.”

Cuccinelli dismissed the Northrup Grumman claim, and described McAuliffe’s allegation he described gays and lesbians as “soulless” as “offensively false.”

LGBT advocates remain critical of Cuccinelli, GOP ticket

The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and NBC 4 took place two days after the release of a Washington Post-Abt SRBI poll shows McAuliffe ahead of Cuccinelli by a 47-39 point margin. 10 percent of respondents said they back Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Robert Sarvis.

Democrats and LGBT rights advocates have repeatedly criticized Cuccinelli over his position against nuptials for gays and lesbians and other LGBT-specific issues.

Chief Justice John Roberts last month denied Cuccinelli’s request to place a stay on a three-judge panel’s March ruling against Virginia’s anti-sodomy statute while the U.S. Supreme Court considers his appeal of it. Cuccinelli in July said during a debate against McAuliffe that Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour moderated that his “personal beliefs about the personal challenge of homosexuality haven’t changed.”

Advocates have also criticized Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson over his anti-gay statements that include comparing gay men to pedophiles and describing them as “very sick people.” The Chesapeake minister who will square off against state Sen. Ralph Northam (D-Norfolk) in November reiterated his opposition to same-sex marriage on September 22 as he spoke at a Shenandoah County church.

“The family was ordained by God,” Jackson said as the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. “He ordained it one man and one woman in the bonds of holy matrimony. (In the Bible) I don’t hear anything about two people of the same sex being married.”

Northam challenged Jackson over his controversial statements against gays and lesbians, marriage and other issues during a debate at George Mason University’s Arlington campus on Tuesday.

“Our job as lieutenant governor is going to be to unite people and to move Virginia in a positive direction,” Northam said as the Washington Post reported. “Making statements against LGBT individuals, making statements against Democrats, they’re anti-God, that they’re anti-life. Those kind of statements, they’re all offensive.”

State Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun) will square off against state Sen. Mark Obenshein (R-Harrisonburg) in November to succeed Cuccinelli as attorney general.

Cuccinelli: Marriage is ‘a very sensitive issue’

McAuliffe again sought to portray Cuccinelli as an extremist as he spoke to reporters after the debate. He also said his first executive order as governor would ban discrimination against gay state employees.

“As governor, we’ll work in a mainstream, partisan way,” McAuliffe said.

Cuccinelli told the Washington Blade as he spoke to reporters after the debate that the economy remains the top priority among the majority of Virginia voters. He remained ambiguous as to whether he feels his opposition to same-sex marriage and other LGBT-specific issues has received too much attention during the campaign.

“That’s a very sensitive issue, and I respect that,” Cuccinelli told the Blade as he discussed nuptials for gays and lesbians. “There are people who feel very strongly about it, and I respect that. And for those folks they want to hear about it, it is one of a range of issues.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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