RICHMOND — By the narrowest of margins, the state Senate on Monday killed a House bill that would have required Virginia’s attorney general to defend any state law whose constitutionality is challenged.
Proposed by Del. Brenda L. Pogge (R-James City), the measured appeared to be aimed at Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who last year declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional and joined two same-sex couples in asking a federal court to strike it down. Months later, the Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriages to take place in Virginia when it refused to take up a lower court ruling that overturned the ban.
Herring’s move had thrilled gay-rights activists but infuriated conservatives who asserted that the attorney general had a duty to defend state law. Herring said at the time that he had concluded that the ban was in conflict with the U.S. constitution, which he also has a duty to uphold.
“The federal constitution trumps the state constitution,” Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) said before the vote. “The attorney general of Virginia did the right thing. He did the courageous thing.”
The Senate voted 20-20 on the bill, with Sen. John Watkins (R-Powhatan) siding with Democrats who opposed it. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who presides over the Senate, broke the tie by voting against the bill.