A couple of weeks ago, Virginia’s state attorney general, the newly elected Mark Herring (D), announced that Virginia’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional and his office will not defend it in court. It was a bold move, with a decidedly partisan twist – the announcement was made on the heels of sweeping Democratic victories in the commonwealth, and the shift was quickly denounced by Virginia Republicans.
But in Nevada yesterday, we saw a similar announcement under very different political circumstances.
Nevada state officials will no longer defend the state’s amendment banning same-sex couples from marrying against legal challenge, both the governor and attorney general’s offices announced Monday.The decision comes in the context of an ongoing challenge to that marriage amendment that is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is seeking to withdraw a previously filed defense of the marriage amendment in that case.“When the Federal District Court decided this case in November 2012, the law regarding treatment of same-sex couples under traditional marriage laws was uncertain,” she said in a statement. “But the legal landscape has since changed.”
It has, indeed. Since November 2012, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.
But the political landscape has changed, too. Note that the move was initiated by Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, who is a Democrat, but it was also endorsed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, who happens to be a Republican. What’s more, while in Virginia the news came after an election, in Nevada, the shift came in advance of an election – Sandoval is currently seeking a second term and will be on the 2014 ballot.
The governor’s spokesperson told BuzzFeed last night, “Based upon the advice of the [state] Attorney General’s office and their interpretation of relevant case law, it has become clear that this case is no longer defensible in court.”
For context, it’s worth emphasizing that Sandoval is himself a former federal judge, appointed to the federal bench during the Bush/Cheney administration.
Note, this does not mean marriage equality is imminent in Nevada; the legal proceedings will continue despite yesterday’s announcement. It does mean, however, that Nevada’s Republican governor and Democratic attorney general no longer believe the state’s ban on same-sex marriages is defensible in court.
As for Sandoval, it stands to reason a move like this will undermine his support with the Republican Party’s far-right base, but he’s probably used to that – the Nevada governor has already embraced Medicaid expansion and created a state-based exchange marketplace to implement the Affordable Care Act in his state.
Politico recently suggested that Sandoval is “arguably doing more to put the Democrats’ signature law into place than any other Republican.”
With this in mind, if conservatives have unkind things to say about the governor following yesterday’s announcement, Sandoval is likely to find the criticisms familiar.