The two men vying to become Virginia's next governor squared off over their oppositional positions regarding marriage equality and women's health at a gubernatorial debate in McLean, Va., Wednesday.
"I do have some tremendous challenges because of the issues of economic development, job creation that I need to focus on, but I have come out for marriage equality,” Democrat Terry McAuliffe said in the debate, according to the Washington Blade.
McAuliffe noted that he and his wife formally came out for marriage equality after the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy in 2011. "The idea we could send men and women across the globe to fight for us and then they come back and they don’t have the same equal opportunities and equal rights I just think was plain wrong,” said the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, according to the Blade.
McAuliffe's Republican challenger, current Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli, reiterated his opposition to marriage equality at the debate, which was moderated by MSNBC's Chuck Todd and took place at the Capital One Conference Center.
"I understand and respect the fact that this is a sensitive issue to a lot of Virginians,” Cuccinelli said, according to the Blade. "But I’m one of those who do believe that the institution of marriage should remain between one man and one woman."
McAuliffe also alluded to Cuccinelli's unyielding support for Virginia's statewide ban on sodomy, which remains on the books despite the 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas that rendered all such laws unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Cuccinelli has appealed the law all the way to the Supreme Court, though Chief Justice John Roberts last month denied Cuccinelli's request to place a stay on the lower court rulings until the nation's highest court considers the case. The law, for which Cuccinelli's campaign created an entire website, criminalizes all anal or oral sex between any two adults in Virginia, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.
Cuccinelli has also made a reputation for himself by targeting Planned Parenthood and defunding women's health clinics that provide abortion services in Virginia. ThinkProgress has an excellent summary of Cuccinelli's far-right politics throughout his four years as attorney general and nearly eight years prior as a state senator.
That radical agenda was the focus of one of McAuliffe's most biting criticisms of his opponent at Wednesday's debate.
"There are consequences to this mean-spirited attack on women’s health, on gay Virginians," McAuliffe said. "If we’re going to build a new economy in Virginia, we’re going to do it by bringing everyone together."