When Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II challenged a federal appeals court ruling that deemed the state’s anti-sodomy law unconstitutional, Democrats pounced, accusing the Republican of pursuing an anti-gay agenda.

Now Cuccinelli’s campaign for governor is looking to turn the tables on opponent Terry McAuliffe, casting it as an issue of protecting children from predators and pushing the Democratic gubernatorial nominee to take a side.

Cuccinelli’s campaign is launching a Web site Wednesday that shows 90 Virginia sex offenders who have been prosecuted under the state’s anti-sodomy law since 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that sodomy statutes criminalizing sexual activity between consenting adults were unconstitutional. Visitors can enter their Zip code and see “offenders who live or work near you, who may be removed from the Sex Offender Registry if Ken doesn’t win this appeal.”

McAuliffe, the site says, is “playing politics instead of protecting our children.”

The Cuccinelli offensive comes as Democrats continue their efforts to portray the Republican nominee as an overzealous conservative advocate on social issues such as abortion, women’s health and gay rights. McAuliffe spokesman Josh Schwerin said the sodomy case was another example of Cuccinelli’s “extreme agenda and uncompromising approach.”

“Everyone supports strong laws to protect children, and, like most Virginians, Terry believes our laws should be updated to both conform with court rulings and allow prosecution of predators,” Schwerin said.

The debate stems from a March ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit that said Virginia’s “Crimes Against Nature” law, which bans oral and anal sex, was invalid in light of the 2003 Supreme Court decision. The ruling centered on a 2005 case in which a 47-year-old man was convicted of soliciting oral sex from a 17-year-old girl.

Cuccinelli took the issue to the full 15-judge appellate court in April and in June asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, saying the Virginia law “is not — and cannot be — used against consenting adults acting in private.”

Rusty McGuire, the Louisa County commonwealth’s attorney, said in an interview Tuesday that he participated in a May conference call with McAuliffe and several other commonwealth’s attorneys in which McAuliffe was asked about his position on the anti-sodomy law.

“He said, ‘I don’t know anything about that. . . . I’ll get back to you tomorrow,’ ” recalled McGuire, a Republican who is backing Cuccinelli in the governor’s race. “Crickets is all I’ve heard since then.”

McGuire said the court ruling was disastrous because it also undermined several other Virginia anti-predator laws that are related to the sodomy statute. But James Parrish, the executive director of the gay rights group Equality Virginia, noted that the General Assembly has had 10 years since the Supreme Court ruling to fix the sodomy law and had not done so.

“We agree with the attorney general and do not want child predators out there,” Parrish said, adding that if Cuccinelli thinks the state’s other laws aren’t adequate to prosecute predators, “he needs to introduce language that addresses the problem. . . . A blanket sodomy law has no place in Virginia or any other place.”

In 2004, when Cuccinelli served in the state Senate, he voted against a measure that would have altered the sodomy law to no longer cover private consensual acts among adults. In 2009, he said he believed “homosexual acts are wrong and should not be accommodated in government policy.”