Idaho Attorney General Wasden Will Continue To Defend State's Gay Marriage Ban

Jan 28, 2014

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.
Credit State of Idaho

Unlike his counterpart in Virginia, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says his personal views on same-sex marriage are irrelevant when it comes to defending the state's Constitution. It’s safe to say Wasden and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring look at their jobs very differently. 

Herring announced last week he would not defend his state’s ban on same-sex marriage. Instead, he’s joining gay couples who are suing the state over the ban. Herring told NPR he thinks the law violates rights guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Herring, a Democrat, angered Virginia Republicans with his decision. They accuse him of injecting personal beliefs into his job instead of defending a law approved by Virginia voters in 2006.   

Idaho's Attorney General Lawrence Wasden meanwhile won a federal judge’s permission to help the state of Idaho defend its voter-approved ban on gay marriage. Four gay couples are suing the state over its 2006 constitutional amendment that makes it illegal for same-sex couples to wed.

Wasden doesn’t criticize Herring directly, but says he’s critical of “my colleagues who choose to abandon their responsibility to defend the policy choices made by the people.” Wasden says it’s not the job of an attorney general to determine a state law’s constitutionality.

My obligation as the attorney general is to defend the state's view, the people's view. - Lawrence Wasden

“The entity that has the power, authority and responsibility of actually making that determination is the court,” Wasden says. “If I simply decide that I have the power to decide what’s constitutional and what’s not constitutional without regard to what our State Constitution says, I essentially become the king.”

In Virginia, Attorney General Herring says his legal opinion of that state's ban changed as his personal beliefs on gay marriage changed.

Wasden refuses to say where he personally stands on the issue of gay marriage. He says he doesn’t think a state attorney’s view of a particular law effects how vigorously he or she defends it court.

“I have strong views on these things,” Wasden says. “But my obligation as the attorney general is to defend this state’s view, the people’s view.”

Wasden says as long as Idaho's law has a legal leg to stand on, he’ll defend it.

“If there is a policy choice that the people make that there is no defense to, that presents a different issue," Wasden adds. "But there are defenses here and the people are entitled to have their elected lawyer represent their view. Whether I agree or disagree is irrelevant.”

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