Virginia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Terry McAuliffe applauded the Supreme Court's decisions Wednesday on a pair of gay-marriage cases and used the rulings as a springboard to once again bash his opponent, Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, on gay-rights issues.
But McAuliffe earlier this month said he wouldn't fight for marriage equality in Virginia if he was elected governor.
After a candidate forum in Northern Virginia, McAuliffe was asked if Virginia should change its constitution, which currently only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman. McAuliffe was non-committal, saying only that "it's not an issue that I'm going to spend my time focused on."
"[The makeup of the legislature is] not going to change in my four years as governor," McAuliffe said. "I've got to focus on those issues: jobs, economic development, how I grow the economy and how I deal with this new transportation money."
A reporter pressed on: "Ok, it's not a priority, but should it be changed? Should Virginia recognize same-sex marriages?"
McAuliffe replied: "The [state] constitution over the next couple years, it's not going to change under my term. I'm going to focus on the issues that I can make a difference on."
The GOP has a 2-to-1 majority in the Virginia House of Delegates and it controls the evenly divided Senate because Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling can cast tie-breaking votes. It's unlikely Democrats could recapture the House over the next four years, though they could gain control of the Senate if a Democrat is elected lieutenant governor this fall or if they win a special election for a Chesapeake Senate seat currently under Republican stewardship.
A voter referendum is also needed to change the constitution to allow gay marriage. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 to only recognize marriage between heterosexual couples.
After the Supreme Court ruled to knock down the federal Defense of Marriage Act and dismissed a case involving California's Proposition 8 gay-marriage ban, McAuliffe said he supports same-sex marriage but added, "I understand that this is an issue that Virginians of goodwill come down on both sides of."
"My opponent has spent his career putting up walls around Virginia and telling gay Virginians that they're not welcome," McAuliffe added. "He even went so far as to order public colleges and universities to remove protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation for faculty and students."
Cuccinelli also filed an amicus brief in the Supreme Court case in support of Virginia's ban. Neither decision Wednesday will ultimately affect the state.
"Once the natural limits that inhere in the relationship between a man and a woman can no longer sustain the definition of marriage, the conclusion that follows is that any grouping of adults would have an equal claim to marriage," Cuccinelli argued to the Supreme Court, adding that it could lead to the state recognizing polygamy.
On Wednesday, Cuccinelli's campaign blasted McAuliffe for failing to take a firm stand on the issue.
"Ken Cuccinelli has always believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman," said Dave Rexrode, Cuccinelli's campaign manager. "Ken's consistency and clarity on this matter stands in stark contrast to Terry McAuliffe, who is eager to attack the attorney general without taking a position himself."