RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR/CNN) - "I wouldn't want the state telling my son or my daughter who they can and cannot marry," newly-elected Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said Thursday when asked what changed from his 2006 vote in support of a same-sex marriage ban in Virginia to today's announcement that his office will change Virginia's position on the ban.
"I saw how that vote hurt a lot of people. It was painful for a lot of people," Herring said. "I continued to think about it. Just like Americans everywhere continue to think about this issue."
He said friends, family and constituents questioned whether his 2006 vote was the right one.
Earlier Thursday Herring filed a brief with the federal court in Norfolk to let them know about the change in Virginia's position in the case of Bostic v. Rainey, a challenge to Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage
"The Commonwealth will side with the plaintiffs in seeking to have the ban declared unconstitutional," Herring spokesman Michael Kelly wrote in an email.
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates William Howell (R - Stafford) said he was concerned with Herring's announcement.
“Less than two weeks ago, Mark Herring took an oath and swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of Virginia. I am very concerned about his announcement today and the dangerous precedent it sets with regard to the rule of law," Del. Howell wrote in a statement.
Thursday's announcement in Virginia, a crucial battleground state in national politics, comes after federal judges recently struck down similar bans in Utah and Oklahoma.
Fifty-seven percent of Virginians voted to approve the same-sex marriage ban in 2006. But recent polling in the commonwealth indicates that a slight majority now support same-sex marriage.
Both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage quickly weighed in on the move in Virginia.
"Attorney General Herring joins the growing legal and public consensus that barriers to marriage for lesbian and gay couples do not protect anyone and only harm Virginia families," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "This courageous stand on behalf of the Commonwealth plants Virginia firmly on the right side of history."
The Human Rights Campaign describes itself as the country's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.
Richmonder Dr. Robin Gorsline can’t contain his excitement and says he and his partner Jonathan are one big step closer to marrying in Virginia, legally.
“Just an incredible moment a wonderful moment of joy,” says Gorsline. “I thought to myself this is what I’ve been praying for.”
Just a few blocks from where the Attorney General announced his decision sits the site in Shockoe Bottom where Thomas Jefferson helped pass the Freedom of Religion act in 1786. Some observers say Herring’s decision could usher in a change that is just as historic both politically and culturally.
Dr. Bob Holsworth says Herring just bolstered Virginia’s growing reputation as a battleground state nationally.
“This is a huge, huge shift for Virginia. My sense is that this has put Virginia right in the heart of gay marriage.”
Others find Herring's stance frightening.
"This lawlessness is an insult to the voters of Virginia who approved the marriage amendment by a large majority. The Left is becoming a law unto itself," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading national faith based organization.
There was a similar message from Virginia Republicans.
"It took Mark Herring less than a month to decide he doesn't want to be Attorney General. The first job of Virginia's Attorney General is to be the Commonwealth's law firm, and to defend the duly passed laws of Commonwealth," said Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins.
Herring's victory was razor thin. On Election Day he was in a virtual dead heat with Republican Mark Obenshain, another state senator. The race went to a recount, and was not concluded until six weeks after the November election, when Obenshain conceded.