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Mark Herring: Va. should be on ‘right side of history’

Attorney general defends decision to challenge gay marriage ban

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Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade
Mark Herring, gay news, Washington Blade

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (Photo courtesy of Herring for Attorney General)

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring told the Washington Blade on Thursday he decided not to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban because he wants to ensure the commonwealth is on “the right side of history.”

“This is a key issue that the [U.S.] Supreme Court is going to have to decide,” said Herring. “If the facts were presented to the Supreme Court, they would strike it down. And it’s important that Virginia be on the right side of history and on the right side of the law.”

Herring spoke with the Blade hours after he declared Virginia’s constitutional amendment that bans same-sex marriage unconstitutional. His office subsequently filed an official notification with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that said the commonwealth’s position in the case that Timothy Bostic and Tony London of Norfolk and Carol Schall and Mary Townley filed last year has changed.

“Having duly exercised his independent constitutional judgment, the attorney general has concluded that Virginia’s laws denying the right to marry to same-sex couples violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” reads the aforementioned document.

Herring told the Blade he feels that Virginians can feel proud of the role their state played in the country’s founding. He said, however, the state was on the “wrong side” of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 Loving v. Virginia decision that struck down the commonwealth’s interracial marriage ban and other landmark civil rights cases.

“We’re not going to be on the wrong side of the law this time,” said Herring.

Herring in 2006 voted against same-sex marriage while in the Virginia Senate. Voters later that year approved the gay nuptials ban by a 57-43 percent margin.

“I was speaking out against forms of discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation, but I did not support marriage equality at that time and I was wrong for that,” Herring told the Blade. “Almost immediately after that I saw how that vote and how that measure really hurt a lot of people and that it was very painful for a lot of people.”

Herring said he saw the issue “very differently” after talking with his family, constituents, friends and neighbors. He added his religion that originally prompted him to oppose marriage rights for same-sex couples helped further shape his position.

“It takes me to a more equal place and a better place,” said Herring. “I wouldn’t want the state telling my son or my daughter who they can and cannot marry.”

A poll the Human Rights Campaign commissioned last June found 55 percent of Virginians support marriage rights for same-sex couples.

HRC President Chad Griffin, Equality Virginia Executive Director James Parrish, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga and state Del. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) are among those who applauded Herring’s announcement. Republicans and social conservatives blasted the former state senator from Loudoun County.

“If Mark Herring doesn’t want to defend this case, he should resign and let the General Assembly appoint someone who will,” said Pat Mullins, chair of the Republican Party of Virginia. “Mark Herring owes the people of Virginia no less.”

House Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford County) said Herring’s announcement sets a “dangerous precedent” with “regard to the rule of law.” National Organization for Marriage President Brian Brown urged Virginia lawmakers to impeach the attorney general.

“There are people who are going to attack me and try to say ‘well it’s about the duty of the attorney general (to defend the marriage ban,)” Herring told the Blade. “In fact what they’re really upset about is that they disagree with marriage equality. And that’s their right, but it’s not the law.”

Herring’s predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli, vehemently opposed marriage rights for same-sex couples while in office. State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), who lost to Herring in last year’s attorney general race by fewer than than 1,000 votes, also did not support gay nuptials.

“I’m less focused on trying to draw a contrast with my predecessor,” Herring told the Blade when asked to comment on Cuccinelli’s opposition to nuptials for gays and lesbians. “I am just making sure I get the law right and fulfill my duties as attorney general as best I can and make sure that we come out on the correct side of this legal case.”

The ACLU, Lambda Legal and the ACLU of Virginia in 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. The first hearing in this case is expected to take place in the coming months.

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1 Comment

  1. Don Tipper

    February 14, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Wow! Just listened to NPR's interview with AG Herring. Very impressive. VA has every right to be proud of their AG and their state. On the right side of history again.

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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