Mark Herring Releases ’’Equality Agenda’’ for Virginia
Virginia state Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun, Fairfax counties), one of two Democrats seeking to become the commonwealth’s next attorney general, released an ’’equality agenda’’ on issues related to LGBT rights.
During a Friday conference call with activists and media, Herring, first elected to the state Senate in 2006, touted his pro-LGBT record and promised to use the power of the attorney general’s office to protect LGBT rights, with particular regard to nondiscrimination, bullying and adoption. Throughout the call, Herring sought to contrast his record with that of the current attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, the presumptive Republican nominee for governor and an opponent of LGBT rights who has been criticized for using his position to pursue a socially conservative agenda.
’’Virginians are ready for fundamental change in the office of the attorney general,’’ Herring said. ’’That change starts with having an attorney general who will promote equality, rather than sow division.’’
Herring’s LGBT-rights platform has three major planks: prohibiting discrimination in state and local government, protecting children and ensuring their safety in schools, and promoting strong families.
Specifically, Herring promised to adopt a nondiscrimination policy for attorney general’s office that protects all employees from discrimination and includes enumerated protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. Herring was one of 21 state senators to sign a similar nondiscrimination statement promising not to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity in their offices’ hiring practices, and was one of only 13 senators to receive a perfect rating on LGBT rights on the 2012 legislative scorecard issued by Equality Virginia, the state’s primary LGBT-advocacy organization.
Herring also said he believes Virginia’s public colleges and universities have the legal authority to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring and admissions, and promised to provide colleges and universities with the support and legal resources necessary to defend policies that protect sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
In 2010, the newly elected Cuccinelli issued a letter advising the state’s public colleges and universities that state laws and policies prohibit including sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in nondiscrimination policies, and that policies containing such protections are ’’invalid.’’ Herring said Friday that Cuccinelli’s opinion was ’’incorrect and harmful’’ and that the attorney general ’’twisted and misstated the law in order to get to a policy position that was well outside the mainstream.’’
Herring also expressed his support for local school boards adopting anti-bullying measures, as they are required to under a recently passed anti-bullying bill, HB 1871. Because each school board is allowed to set its own regulations, Herring promised to work with local school divisions to craft comprehensive anti-bullying policies that protect LGBT students. He also promised to oppose any legislation attempting to ban the formation of ’’gay-straight alliances’’ in public schools.
Lastly, Herring stated his support of marriage equality and promised to work with state and local agencies to define ways to allow same-sex couples to access health and life insurance benefits without violating Virginia’s ban on recognizing same-sex relationships. He also stated his support for changing Virginia law to permit second-parent adoptions for same-sex couples, and for repealing a so-called ’’conscience clause’’ passed in 2012 that allows adoption/foster-care agencies - whether private or state-funded - to discriminate against potential parents based on a wide range of characteristics by claiming religious or moral objections.
’’Current Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has taken action and supported policies that are divisive,’’ Herring said. ’’They have hurt Virginians, damaged our state’s reputation, and Republican [attorney general] candidates Rob Bell and Mark Obenshain would follow in Ken Cuccinelli’s footsteps. We cannot afford another four years with an attorney general like Ken Cuccinelli. Virginia deserves better. As attorney general, I will take politics out of the office, I will put the law first, and I will use the powers of the office to promote equality.’’
The two Republicans running for attorney general, Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Rockingham counties) and Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Page, Rappahannock, Warren, Shenandoah and Rockingham counties, Harrisonburg City), have anti-LGBT records on a host of issues, including gay adoption, the ’’conscience clause’’ bill and employment nondiscrimination. Bell voted against confirming Judge Tracy Thorne-Begland, Virginia’s first and only out gay judge, to the Richmond General District Court Judge; and against repealing a 19th-century law prohibiting unmarried couples - gay or straight - from cohabitating. Obenshain abstained from voting on Thorne-Begland’s nomination.