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Switching sides on gay marriage

Attorneys general in many U.S. states are increasingly taking an unusually supportive role in the movement to legalize gay marriage.

Despite their duty to defend the laws on the books, some attorneys general are outright refusing to back their states' prohibitions against same-sex matrimony.

The trend was highlighted this week when a federal judge struck down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage. The ruling came after the state attorney general himself said the ban was unconstitutional.

Conservatives have bitterly accused them of shirking their sworn responsibility. But the state attorneys say that the legal case against gay marriage is crumbling and that it would be improper for them to argue positions they have concluded are clearly unconstitutional.

Attorneys general in five states — Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and, this week, Nevada — have declined to defend same-sex marriage bans against lawsuits filed by gay couples, while a sixth, in New Mexico, challenged longstanding legal interpretations that said such unions were impermissible there. The AGs are all Democrats.

The developments illustrate the growing public acceptance of gay marriage and the rapidly shifting legal landscape since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Defence of Marriage Act that denied gay married couples the federal benefits and privileges enjoyed by heterosexual couples.

The first attorney general to stop defending his state's ban was California's Jerry Brown, now governor. The U.S. Supreme Court soon ruled that gay-marriage foes did not have the legal standing to argue the case in the AG's absence. With no opposing argument, the ban fell last year.

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