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Back to the future: Virginia Republican wants anti-sodomy laws on the books

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gestures during a press conference after a hearing before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on a challenge to the federal health care reform act in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, May 10, 2011.  (Photo by Steve Helber/AP)
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli gestures during a press conference after a hearing before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals on a challenge to the...

UPDATED 5:00 pm

The current attorney general and likely GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli wants to keep anti-sodomy laws on the books in Virginia.

According to a report from the Washington Blade, Cuccinelli's office filed paperwork last week with the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond urging the court to reconsider a recent decision by a three-judge panel that overturned the state’s sodomy law.

The three-judge panel had recently ruled that a section of Virginia’s “Crimes Against Nature” statute outlawing sodomy between consenting adults is unconstitutional based on a decade old U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Lawrence v. Texas.

Cuccinelli issued a statement Wednesday afternoon defending his move by saying it was driven by the details of the specific case.

"This case is not about sexual orientation, but using current law to protect a 17 year-old girl from a 47 year-old sexual predator," said Caroline Gibson, spokeswoman for the attorney general's office. "The attorney general is committed to protecting Virginia's children from predators who attempt to exploit them and rob them of their childhood."

The state used the anti-sodomy statute -- which outlaws sodomy between people of opposite sex as well as the same sex -- in this case to prosecute a 47-year-old man charged with soliciting oral sex from a 17-year-old girl. His conviction was struck down when that three-judge panel declared the law banning sodomy unconstitutional. Democratic State Senator Adam Ebbin says he's looking into introducing legislation next year that would repeal the law for "consenting adults."

But the measure has been seen by many as part of an anti-LGBT agenda, which may not play well even in socially conservative Virginia. The commonwealth has seen a significant shift in support of same sex marriage in recent years. According to a poll released this week, though Virginia's legislature easily passed an amendment banning marriage equality in 2006, today a roughly equal number of people support and oppose it (46% to 47%). As the pollster explained to the Richmond Times Dispatch, "While opposition of gay marriage remains stronger here than nationally, the rapid erosion of that opposition among Virginians in the years since the 2006 amendment is nothing short of astonishing.”

The Democratic Party of Virginia blasted Cuccinelli's move, arguing it's a continuation of his extreme social agenda. "Even as he attempts to torpedo transportation legislation, fend off broad condemnation over his conflict of interest with Star Scientific, promote a radical book, and run for governor, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has found time to focus on what matters (to him): His extreme social agenda."

Virginia voters already see Cuccinelli as more extreme and ideological than his likely opponent in the race for the governor's mansion. A recent Quinnipiac University survey found 29% of voters said Cuccinelli's political philosophy is too conservative, while 21% said Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe is too liberal.

Cuccinelli's decision comes on the heels of announcements from Republican Sens. Rob Portman and Mark Kirk in support of same-sex marriage, and as the national party works to embrace LGBT voters. As Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said last month, "I think it's about being decent. I think it's about dignity and respect, that nobody deserves to have their dignity diminished, or people don't deserve to be disrespected." Trying to outlaw what people do behind closed doors may not leave them feeling respected.