After compiling a record of votes and comments that easily make him among the most virulently anti-LGBT elected officials in the country, Virginia Attorney Ken Cuccinelli II (R) sought to minimize his record in a gubernatorial debate on Wednesday. But his claims fly in the face of his 11-year political career.
Facing off against Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, Cuccinelli attempted to downplay social issues, saying, “Look, I believe — I have some basic beliefs that are fundamental to me. But overwhelming proportion of my time as attorney general has been spent moving Virginia forward economically and protecting liberty and our constitution.” But as attorney general, he has consistently opposed liberty and the constitutional protections for LGBT Virginians, demanding that public colleges and universities rescind non-discrimination policies and making a campaign issue his attempt to revive an anti-sodomy law he refused to bring into compliance with the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas ruling.
When asked about LGBT issues, McAuliffe reiterated his full support for marriage equality and employment non-discrimination protections. He noted that, as governor, he would sign a marriage equality bill if one got to his desk, which he noted was not currently possible due to the state’s marriage inequality amendment (which Cuccinelli co-sponsored). Cuccinelli wrongly responded: “It actually doesn’t happen in the form of a bill. It’s a constitutional amendment, so it never comes to the governor… it will never come to the desk of a Virginia governor.” While the governor of Virginia does not have any a formal role in the constitutional amendment process, in the event that the state amendment is ruled invalid under the federal constitution, a marriage equality bill could certainly follow.
Cuccinelli attempted to deny his own prior anti-LGBT comments — even though he had stood by them in his first debate against McAuliffe in July. In both debates, McAuliffe highlighted a 2008 speech Cuccinelli made to the anti-gay Virginia Family Foundation in which he had opined, “When you look at the homosexual agenda, I cannot support something that I believe brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of their soul.”
Asked in the July debate whether he stilled believed LGBT people to be “soulless” and “self-destructive,” Cuccinelli told moderator Judy Woodruff, “My personal beliefs about the personal challenges of homosexuality haven’t changed.” But as McAuliffe on Wednesday again lambasted Cuccinelli for that view — and for jeopardizing the Virginia jobs when his pro-discrimination efforts nearly caused Northrup Grumman to relocate its headquarters — this time, Cuccinelli dissembled. Calling them “personal attacks,” Cuccinelli announced, “The Northrop Grumman charge is false. The soulless comment is offensively false.”
Cuccinelli then warned that McAuliffe might follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Justice, two Governors of California, and the Attorneys General of Illinois, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and other states in refusing to defend marriage inequality provisions they believe to be in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution:
CUCCINELLI: I would note that my opponent appears poised, based on some of his comments — during the campaign, to not defend our state constitution. Now look, as attorney general, I’ve defended laws whether I like them or not. And as pointed out by a former Democrat attorney general, Tony Troy, a pattern for Terry, though, that’s been emerging is that he seems to think he gets to decide which laws and which parts of the Virginia Constitution that you’re obligated to defend as the Virginia governor.
The oath of office for the governor of Virginia — and the one Cuccinelli took in 2010 as AG — includes a solemn vows first to “support the constitution of the United States” and second to support “the constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.” Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution makes clear that the federal constitution takes precedence over state constitutions — so when the two are in conflict, it is absolutely up to the governor and attorney general to make that decision.
Moreover, Cuccinelli himself has refused to defend laws that he deems unconstitutional. Indeed earlier this month, his spokesman noted, “If the attorney general’s analysis shows that a law is unconstitutional, he has a legal obligation to not defend it.” Indeed in 2009, Cuccinelli himself said in a debate, “I will not defend what I, in my judgment, deem to be an unconstitutional law.” “If I determine it not to be constitutional,” he explained then, “I will not defend it. My first obligation is to the Constitution and the people of Virginia.”